Q & A with Harry Rinker: Coney Island ‘Cyclone’ Ticket Booth, Christmas Seal Collection
QUESTION: A friend and I recently started to attend storage auctions. We paid $50 for the first locker we bought. Inside, in a dark, dim corner, we found the original Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster ticket booth. The front of the booth reads “RIDE THE / WORLD FAMOUS / ROLLERCOASTER / THE/ CYCLONE / 25.” We think this booth is from 1927, when the ride was first introduced. The booth appears to have served time as a hostess podium at a restaurant. A paper indicating how to seat customers is attached to the top. Do you have any idea how much this is worth?
– B.C., N.J., via e-mail
ANSWER: The Cyclone was the third of three roller coasters built on Coney Island in the 1920s: Thunderbolt (1925), Tornado (1926), and Cyclone (opened June 26, 1927). Jack and Irving Rosenthal hired Vernan Keenan to design a roller coaster to be built at the intersection of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, the site of the Switchback Railroad, America’s first roller coaster. When the Cyclone opened in 1927, the admission price was 25 cents.
This is the good news. Alas, there is bad news. “If it looks new, assume it is new” is one of my 10 basic authenticating rules. The photograph attached to your e-mail suggests the podium is more recent than you suspect. Much of the paint looks new.
The lettering font and design scheme is late 1920s, but a later application. An argument that the new paint is a repaint over the period lettering can be made. My observations suggest otherwise.
We agree on one thing; the object is a hostess booth from a restaurant. However, it is a later copycat (not an exact copy), possibly even a fantasy piece. I favor fantasy piece because the form of the booth is closer to that of a sideshow barker’s podium than that used by individuals selling ride tickets. You have the advantage of seeing the back side and top of the podium. No images of these views were attached to your e-mail. The aging of the wood will be the dating key.
If the probability is high that this is the first ticket podium for the Cyclone, it needs major restoration to remove later paint so that the period paint is exposed. Use a painting conservator, not a furniture restorer. The cost could exceed $1,000, perhaps more than the restored ticket podium will be worth.
If the ticket podium is a copycat or fantasy piece, it still has decorator and conversation value. You should be able to triple and possibly quadruple the price you paid for the locker.
QUESTION: I have a collection of Red Cross Christmas Seal Stamps that includes examples from the years 1908 to 1969. What is the collection worth?
– J.K., Timberlake, Ohio, via e-mail
ANSWER: As the 20th century dawned, tuberculosis was a dreaded disease, especially because of its cruel effect on children. Einar Holboll, a Danish postal clerk, is credited with originating the concept of adding a charitable stamp, the proceeds designed to aid tuberculosis victims, to holiday mail. The King of Denmark, Christian IX, and the Danish postmaster approved the plan. Denmark issued the first Christmas Seal, bearing a likeness of the Danish Queen Louise of Hesse-Kassel, in 1904. Seven years later, funds generated from Christmas Seal sales funded the building of a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Kolding.
The Christmas Seal idea spread. Sweden and Iceland were the first countries to copy Denmark’s example. The first American Christmas Seal was issued in 1907. Emily Bissell, a Red Cross volunteer and veteran fund raiser, developed a Christmas Seal sold in U.S. Post Offices throughout Delaware for one penny. Bissell’s goal was to raise $300 to save a small Delaware sanatorium. With the help of an endorsement by President Theodore Roosevelt, Bissel raised 10 times her goal.
The American Red Cross and the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (NASPT) took the program national in 1908. The American Red Cross remained affiliated with the Christmas Seal effort until 1920, when NASPT assumed exclusive control. The NASPT went through numerous name changes, eventually evolving into the American Lung Association.
What appears on the surface to be a simple collecting category is actually rather complex. First, variations of the Red Cross/NASTP annual seal were issued. Second, the design spread across several seals in some years. For example, a pair of seals is required for the complete 1936 design and a block of four seals for the 1954 design. Third, state and local clubs issued their own versions of Christmas Seals.
Christmas Seal collectors focus on American, as well as foreign, issues. Serious collectors include progressive color proofs, freaks (misperforated seals, out-of-color registration and gum on the wrong side) and errors in their collections.
The Christmas Seal & Charity Stamp Society, founded in 1931, “was created to promote and improve the hobby in various way: members exhibiting their collections, primarily at stamp shows, and sharing articles and information through our journal, Seal News, and by writing and editing catalogs for sale, and creating free Christmas Seal albums on computer CD. Members meet at national and international stamps shows where they put our hobby and publications on display and give away Christmas Seals in society booths.” The CS&CSS also publishes “Green’s Catalog of Tuberculosis Seals of the World.”
Valuing your 1908-to-1969 collection of American Christmas Seals is difficult. Although you attached a photograph of part of the collection to your e-mail, additional information is needed. First, how are the stamps attached to the display card? Value differs for a hinged versus unhinged example. If glued to the display card, value is seriously affected.
Variations impact value. The 1908 Christmas seal was issued in two variations, one with a small “C” and square frame corners and a second with a large “C” and round frame corners. Each of these two variations is found in 12- and 14-perforation sides and with smooth and grilled gum backs.
Value resides primarily in the earliest Christmas seals; those issued during the first 10 years of the program. An unhinged, 1908 type-1 example is valued between $35 and $45. A 1913 type 1 Christmas seal variation books in at close to $1,000. Post-1945 Christmas Seals sell for less than one dollar, most for less than a quarter. The low cost to acquire examples is the prime reason collectors are attracted to this philatelic subcategory.
Today, my advice to those seeking value for a collection is to think conservatively. Does your collection of Christmas Seals have a retail value around $100? This probability is high. Even $150 may be the answer. Only unbridled optimism and luck will raise the number to $200, but miracles happen.
QUESTION: I have an unused 1976 Bicentennial HO toy train set in its period box. What is its value?
– P., Reading, Pa.
ANSWER: A Google search led me to the “Tyco Brown Box Era HO-Scale Trains Resource online.A click on “Spirit of ‘76” took me to a homepage devoted to Tyco’s Bicentennial red, white, and blue train series. The information begins: “TYCO began celebrating America’s 200th Anniversary with its first red-white-blue bicentennial offerings in the 1974-75 catalog. By 1976, TYCO had three diesel locomotives, a steam engine, passenger cars, freight cars, and a caboose available.” Since your question lacked specifics, I debated how to proceed.
Then I read a note at the bottom of the home page: “It seems to many that any and all red white and blue trains produced must be TYCO. TYCO does appear to be very much associated with the amazing number of bicentennial HO-scale trains made in the 1970s. However, TYCO was only one of many companies to dress models in patriotic colors. The likes of AHM, Athearn, Bachmann, Life-Like, Lionel-HO, Model Power, and others all produced items with the 1776 theme. As a good rule to follow, TYCO nearly always had either ‘TYCO-MANTUA” or “TYCO” on the bottom of its products. For example, the fuel tank bottom of a TYCO diesel should have “TYCO Hong Kong” on it in raised plastic letters.”
Not wishing to end on an “I cannot help you” note, I conducted several internet and eBay searches for 1976 Bicentennial trains set. Full boxed sets typically sell in the $45 to $60 range. This value assumes that the locomotive, rolling stock, track, transformer and all supporting documentation are present.
QUESTION: I have a collectors’ plate featuring a blue decal of the Munich skyline with St. Michael’s church in the center above the five Olympic rings over a cluster of oak leaves. The border reads: “OLYMPIADE / 1972/ MÜNCHEN.” The back is marked: “PMA / Bavaria / Perger Co./ Germany.” What is it worth?
– E.P., Hanover, Wis.
ANSWER: More than a dozen companies, including Bing and Grondahl, issued collector edition plates honoring the 1972 summer Olympics held in Munich. The complete collecting unit consists of the plate, the box in which it came, and all literature that was found in the box.
The collectors/limited edition plate craze was at its peak in the early 1970s. Collectors bought and hoarded large quantities for speculative purposes. The secondary resale market collapsed in the late 1980s.
If you only own the plate and not the box and supporting literature, your plate has a value between $8 and $10. Its Olympic theme does not enhance its value. The box and literature add another $4 to $5.
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