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Q & A with Harry Rinker: Fire Hydrant Bank full of Silver Coins

by Harry Rinker (11/30/10).

QUESTION: I own a bank in the shape of a fire hydrant. My Uncle Pete, who was a volunteer at the Oakbrook Fire Company, gave it to my father. The bank is red in color, has a chain like a real fire hydrant, and stands two feet high. The body of the bank is plaster, but the bottom appears to be a heavy paper. While there is a slot in the top, there is no opening in the base to remove the coins. My dad, who worked at the Berkshire Knitting Mills, used the bank to save his pocket change between 1948 and the mid-1960s. He told me all the coins he put into the bank were silver, not clad. My dad wants to break the bank open to retrieve the coins. I told him to wait until I asked you if the bank has value in its own right.

– MS, Reading, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: While the bank has collectible value, the coins inside have far greater value. Assuming the bank dates from the late 1940s, it most certainly has appeal to fire memorabilia collectors. There are specialized fire memorabilia shows and auctions. In the late 1990s, I attended an antique fire memorabilia show at the Allentown (Pa.) Fairgrounds. I located Internet information posted about the 15th annual show held in 2006. Call the Allentown Fairgrounds’ office and ask if the show is still being held. If yes, you have a potential sales outlet for your bank. As a piece of firehouse memorabilia, your bank has a value of around $25.

With the price of an ounce of pure silver above $25, the melt face value for coins ranges between 15 and 16 times face. This means every “silver” half dollar in your bank is worth at least $7.50, every quarter $3.75, and every dime $1.50. It only takes a few coins to exceed the collectible value of the bank itself.

You are a double winner. Rather than “break the bank,” drill a hole in the bottom large enough to remove the coins but still capable of being plugged by a rubber stopper, which you can buy at any local hardware store. A collector will not deduct value if this is done properly.

Once you remove the coins, separate the silver dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars from any clad examples. Also, remove the pennies and nickels. Add up the total value of the silver coins and multiply by fifteen. This provides you with a bottom-line melt value.

However, before you rush off and sell the coins for melt value, consider asking an expert to go through the coins and to determine if there are any coins whose “collecting” value exceeds melt value. At the very least, do this for any coins that appear “brand” new (uncirculated). There are coins from 1948 and the mid-1968s, depending on grade, where collecting value is higher.

If you follow my advice, you will have money to “take to the bank.” Bank on it. [Sorry, I could not resist either the cliché or pun.]

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QUESTION: I have a “BOY RANGER / MACHINE GUN” cannon that shoots marbles. It has a 12-inch silver cast-iron barrel. It has an 18-inch wooden carriage that is painted black. I believe it was made around 1915. What is it worth, if anything?

– KL, Altoona, Pa.

ANSWER: Kilgore Manufacturing Company, Homestead, Pa., made your Boy Ranger Machine Gun cannon. The toy was patented on Oct. 21, 1913. The cannon’s barrel has a ¾-inch diameter breach. Up to 12 marbles could be loaded into the barrel. Cranking the handle at the base of the barrel fired the marbles one at a time.

In researching the history of Kilgore Manufacturing Company, I failed to find any references to the company being located in Homestead, the exception being the listings for the “BOY RANGER” cannon. The Kilgore Manufacturing Company with which I am most familiar was based in Westerville, located just north of Columbus, Ohio. The company began as the George D. Wanner Co., manufacturer of “E-Z Fly” kites. In 1925 Wanner merged with the Federal Toy Company and Andes Foundry to become the American Toy Company. By the late 1920s, the company was issuing “Toys That Last” under the Kilgore brand name. In the late 1920s, Kilgore had more than 175 employees. Kilgore made a wide variety of cast iron products, including cap guns, doll house furniture and vehicles (cars, fire engines and trucks). Butler Brothers was one of the company’s largest distributors. I owned several Kilgore cap guns as a youngster and purchased box after box of Kilgore caps.

Kilgore made flares, hand grenades and land mines during Second World War. Kilgore moved from Westerville, Ohio, to Toone, Tenn., in 1961, manufacturing cap guns until the mid-1980s.

I found several Internet dealer listings for the “BOY RANGER” cannon ranging from $495 to $499. None sold. While there are no fixed prices in the antiques and collectibles field, there are two unspoken rules among dealers. One is the ideal price, which is one upon which all dealers can agree. Another is the market, which is best served when sellers conform to this price. The result is a false sense of “true” value. Dealer collusion to prop a market—all too common—is harmful. While a serious collector is aware of the price at which the “BOY RANGER” cannon sells at auction, the unsophisticated buyer is not. The unsophisticated buyer accepts the asking price as the correct price, misplacing his trust instead of questioning the validity of every price.

The realistic secondary market value of your “BOY RANGER” cannon is between $275 and $325. Any offer for more than $400 is a gift from God. My primary reason for offering the lower value is that collectors for this type of toy are well past retirement age. Most collectors who wish to own an example have one. While a “neat” thing, the cannon’s market is limited, something the value must reflect.

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QUESTION: My father and mother were married for 51 years. He died in 1991. During a 10- to 15-year period of their marriage, my father gave my mother Lladró figurines for gifts. He bought the majority of them at Musselman’s Jewelers in Bethlehem. When my mother died in 2005, the family divided the collection. I have the 10 figurines I received stored in an attic. I went to Musselman’s to ask their value, but they told me that they do not appraise Lladrós and did not know who did. We want to sell the collection and need advice.

– CS, Lehigh Valley, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: Your first step is to identify the name of your figurines. Retrieve your figurines from the attic and take pictures for easy reference. Begin by going to www.lladro.com. This site contains a catalog of the figurines currently in production. It is common for a popular figurine to remain in production for several decades. If you are successful in your search, note the figurine’s name and suggested retail price.

Lladró discontinues and adds new figurines on a regular basis. The common assumption that a discontinued figurine is more valuable than a current production piece is false. Secondary market value is determined by desirability. Many discontinued examples fail to attract collector interest, while some popular production figurines are eagerly sought by individuals looking for bargains.

If your figurine is not in the current production catalog, identification still is easy. There are several Internet sites such as www.aretiredcollection.com that contain a full list of discontinued figures. Most retired Lladró search sites are organized by figurine theme, since most individuals do not know the specific figurine name. Again, make note of the name of each figurine and asking price as you locate them.

Now that you have determined the names of the figurines and a value, it is time to interpret these values. First, if the figurine is currently in production, the safest assumption is that a quick sell price will be between 25 and 35 percent of the suggested retail value. Second, asking prices for discontinued figurine are often negotiable. Further, if a buyer has patience and is willing to spend time in the hunt, it is possible to buy examples at ground or Internet auctions at considerably lower prices.

Finally, check eBay prices. Search using the name of each figurine. Again, eBay prices are likely to be considerably less than those asked by Internet dealers. Prices realized on eBay are a more realistic expectation of what your Lladró are worth.

You have a have a number of selling options. First, inquire whether a local auctioneer has an annual or semi-annual figurine sale. Lladró figurines are often sold in conjunction with Hummels and collector edition items. Do not sell at auction if the auctioneer wants to include the figurines as part of a general merchandise sale. Select an auctioneer who posts the auction’s sale list on the Internet and accepts Internet bidding during the actual sale.

Second, offer your figurines to one or more of the major secondary market dealers. Expect them to offer 50 cents on the secondary market retail dollar for hard to find examples and 25 to 30 cents for commonly found figurines. For the past decade, Replacements, Ltd. has been actively selling Lladró and other collector edition figurines. Replacements pays top price for items for which they have a demand. The corollary is that Replacements offers very little for items for which they have a large supply in inventory.

Do not overlook eBay as a sales source, especially if you find strong interest, defined in this instance as a 20-plus bid history during the past six months for each listing of the same figurine. The costs to sell on eBay are much lower than those of an auction gallery or auction house.

The best time to sell your Lladró are in late October or November, when husbands are looking for Christmas presents for their wives. You might also want to consider late April or very early May, the four weeks leading up to Mother’s Day.

Finally, you have no cost in the Lladró figurines. Do not become enamored by the prices you find and refuse to sell for less. By noting you have the figurines stored in your attic, you already have indicated that the figurines have no personal value to you. Any money is better than no money.

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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: Fire Hydrant Bank full of Silver Coins”

  1. Earl Luhn says:

    The Allentown, PA fire antique auction and flea market is still being held. I attended last spring and witnessed an old parade fire helmet sell at auction for $12,000!! That was on the extreme end of the auction prices though. Both the auction and the flea market are great shows to attend.

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