Q & A with Harry Rinker: Goebel Limited Editions, Erector Sets, Martin Mandolin

QUESTION: I have four items from the Goebel limited edition Bavarian Forest series—the 1980 first-edition bell, decanter, plate and stein. They are brand new in the box, never having been displayed or used. My husband purchased them while stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War era. In fact, I still have the postage receipt showing he mailed them from Germany and they cleared customs. My online research produced two results: (1) inconsistent pricing and (2) few sale offerings. What help can you provide?

– CS, via e-mail

ANSWER: The 1980 decanter was limited to 5,000 and the plate to 7,500. Neither 5,000 nor 7,500 is limiting. Limited is 10 or less. I like five as an even better number.

Goebel issued its salt-glazed stoneware Bavarian Forest series just as the limited-edition collector craze was ending. The pieces had a gray stoneware body, cobalt blue background, and green and blue highlights. The featured animal changed each year. The 1980 pieces have an image of a pair of owls. The company persisted and completed the series. The 1980 plate listed at $100, expensive for its time.

Sellers can ask any price they want. I found plate listings beginning at $12.95 and ending at $45. The key always is the price at which a piece sells. As you discovered, very few offerings sold. I did find a 1980 bell that realized $17 on Proxibid.

It is time for a reality check. First, finding anyone to buy your material will be difficult. There is no market. Second, if you do find a buyer, keep your asking price between 10 and 20 percent of the initial cost. Any asking price above this is likely to result in a “no sale.”

The only consolation is the concept that some money is better than no money. Give your four pieces to a local auctioneer and be happy with whatever money he/she generates. If you are lucky, you will be able to fill up your car’s gas tank, although given the recent rise in gasoline prices, I am not certain.

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QUESTION: I have a 10 ½ Erector Set that I acquired in the early 1950s. The red metal box measures 22 inches by 13 inches by 3 inches. The motor and instruction book are present. I cannot find a parts list so I do not know if it is complete. What is its value?

– T, Reading, Pa.

ANSWER: Alfred Carlton Gilbert (Feb. 14, 1884-January 24, 1961) is credited with inventing the Erector Set. Gilbert, born in Salem, Ore., attended Pacific (Forest Grove, Ore.) and Yale universities, supporting his study of sports medicine by working as a magician. Gilbert demonstrated his athletic prowess by setting a world’s record for consecutive chin-ups (39) in 1900 and sharing with fellow American Edward Cook the gold medal for pole vaulting in the 1908 Summer Olympics.

Rejecting a career in sports medicine, Gilbert founded the A. C. Gilbert Company in 1909. The company, located in Westville, Conn., initially made magic sets. Fascinated by the iron girders used in bridge construction on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Gilbert developed a construction toy that utilized miniature girders. The first Erector Set was marketed in 1913. The Erector set was one of more than 150 patents held by Gilbert.

During World War I, the United States Council of National Defense considered banning the manufacturing of toys, claiming the materials used to manufacture toys were needed for the war effort. In April 1916, Gilbert helped found the Toy Manufacturers of America and served as its first president. He successfully led the fight against the toy ban.

TRIVIA QUIZ: What nickname did the press assign Gilbert as the leader of the fight against the toy ban?

A. C. Gilbert bought the American company producing Meccano, a construction set based on a 1913 British patent, in 1929. Gilbert continued to manufacture “American Meccano” until 1938.

Gilbert introduced its first 10 ½ Erector set, The World Champion, in 1936/37. The powder blue crackle metal box measured 24 inches by 14 inches by 4 inches. Gilbert sold its 10 ½ Electric Train Set, housed in a blue metal box, from 1938 through 1939.

The first 10 ½ set, The Amusement Park, housed in a red box appeared in 1949. The early box measured 22 in. x 13 in. x 3 in. The 1951 set allowed the owner to build several amusement park rides, including a carousel (merry-go-round), Ferris wheel and parachute ride. The set had lights and an electromagnet. The set remained in production through 1961. The set number changed in 1957 to #10081 and the set was renumbered each year thereafter; the 1960/61 set identified as #10084.

The parts issue is difficult. Most sets are missing pieces. If a child owned more than one set, pieces were interchanged. Outside pieces were introduced. The key is whether enough parts remain to build the examples shown in the book.

I found a 10 ½ Erector Set parts set (many missing pieces) for sale on the Internet with an asking price of $175. Ed Bohl’s website has two examples for sale, one priced at $395 that includes some reproduction parts and another at $495. A set in fair condition sold on eBay for $216 while a near-mint set sold for $1,846.

As always, my suggestion is to think conservatively. The value of your 10 ½ Erector Set is around $250.

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QUESTION: I have a Martin mandolin that I acquired in 1936. How do I determine its value?

– A, Allentown, Pa.

ANSWER: The modern four double course (four pairs of metal strings) mandolin appeared in Italy in the third quarter of the 18th century. As the 20th century dawned, a mandolin craze swept across America. Music teachers and dealers marketed the instruments. Mandolin orchestras were popular. The craze was over by the beginning of the 1930s, but the mandolin survived thanks to its role in blue grass and country music.

Christian Frederick Martin founded C. F. Martin & Company in 1833. The company is located in Nazareth, Pa.. C. F. “Chris” Martin IV, the great-great-great-grandson of the founder, is the company’s CEO. A detailed company history is available on its web site.

Begin your research on the company web site, as it contains a list of Martin mandolin serial numbers. The list allows you to identify the exact year your mandolin was made. C. F. Martin made over-the-counter mandolins from 1895 to 1993 and custom ordered mandolins from 1994 to 2002, when production ceased.

Since you live close to Nazareth, take your mandolin to the Martin Guitar Visitor Center in Nazareth. Visit the museum and consider taking a tour of the manufacturing facility. Ask the curator at the museum to identify the mandolin model you own. There were several.

Value is contingent on condition and playability. Playability is how the instrument sounds. Wood instruments “mellow,” developing a richness of sound that is distinctly different from a new instrument. Unfortunately, instruments that are not well cared for lose quality. If the curator at Martin is not able to gauge your mandolin’s playability, he/she will be able to recommend someone who is.

My Internet research revealed a range of values from $650 to $1,500 or more. This assumes your mandolin is in playable condition. Normally, I would not cite such a broad range. However, since the quality of the instrument and the sound remains undetermined, it is the only option I have.

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QUESTION: My father owned a brass Roosevelt (name spelled out) license plate fob. It measures 10 ½ inches wide by 6 ½ inches high. There is minor damage to the left end of the left oval on the bottom, the oval used to secure the fob to the car. Can you tell me its value?

– JB, via e-mail

ANSWER: The key to researching any object is to know what it is called. When I did an Internet search under “license fob+political,” I found several contemporary examples. However, I had a strange feeling—one learns to trust them when involved in the antiques and collectibles business—that “fob” was not the correct term. I remember including a category on these “fobs” in one of the “Warman’s Americana & Collectibles” price guides that I edited. I searched my mind, a process that seems to take longer and longer the older I become, for the answer. I found the term in the deep recesses—topper.

Much to my surprise, there was no history of license plate toppers on the Internet. I found dozens of examples, mostly from tourist sites in the South. My guess is that your Roosevelt license plate topper dates from the 1932 or 1936 elections.

When I need help with a political item, I consult with Brian Krapf, president of the American Political Items Collectors. Brian confirmed my suspicion that the Roosevelt topper dates from 1932 or 1936 and that its value is between $100 and $125. While a fun piece, the item is common. Most collectors who want one have one.

TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: “The man who saved Christmas.”

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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, 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.

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