QUESTION: I have a painted, white/slush metal stick cigarette lighter that features two seated cartoon characters, each wearing a top hat and with their feet propped up on a stump. One is short, the other is tall. The short character has a beard. The base reads “THIS IS THE LIFE / FISHER.” Who are these characters, when was the lighter made, and what is it worth?
– DK, Emmaus, Pa.
ANSWER: The photograph that accompanied your letter allowed easy identification of the characters. They are Mutt and Jeff.
Bud Fisher’s “A Mutt” first appeared on the sports page in the San Francisco Chronicle on Nov. 15, 1907. Within a short time, it became a six-day a week strip, considered by comic strip historians to be the first successful daily cartoon strip. Othello Jeff first appeared in the strip on March 27, 1908.
Augustus Mutt, motivated by greed, had an addiction to gambling on horses. Jeff, a half-pint figure and a resident of an insane asylum, shared Mutt’s horse racing interests. As the strip progressed, the horse racing theme was dropped in favor of get rich schemes.
On June 7, 1908, Fisher moved the strip to Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. King Features syndicated the strip, and it became an instant hit. In 1913, Fisher became dissatisfied with King Features. On Sept. 15, 1915, Fisher moved the strip to the Wheeler Syndicate (later Bell Syndicate). Fisher received 60 percent of all revenues. His annual income quickly reached $150,000. Merchandising followed, adding another $100,000 per year.
Fisher lost interest in the strip in the 1930s. He hired others to draw it. Al Smith drew the strip for more than 50 years. Syndication ended in 1982.
A series of 10-inch by 10-inch comic strip reprint books were issued between 1919 and 1933. Mutt and Jeff were on the cover of “Famous Funnies #1,” the first modern comic book. From 1939 to 1958 DC Comics gave Mutt and Jeff their own title.
Your stick cigarette lighter was made in the late 1910s or early 1920s. My research revealed a bank featuring the same figures but in a different pose.
The condition of your lighter is between very good and fine. If I had answered this question 10 years ago, I would have said its primary appeal was to early cartoon collectors. Alas, many of these individuals have passed on. Today, its primary appeal is to collectors of early lighting devices. It may have been a trade stimulator, but I favor home use.
The value of your Mutt and Jeff, painted white metal, stick lighter is between $650 and $700. If placed at auction, the final hammer value might exceed that amount.
QUESTION: I have an advertising broadside for Fishmuth’s Just So, “Chew or Smoke” tobacco. The broadside measures 19 ¾ inches by 28 inches. The broadside has 21 2½-inch-by-4-inch pictures of stage actresses and two large 7-inch-by-10½-inch pictures, one entitled “Sylvia Gerrish” and the other “Carmensita.” The broadside has been pasted to a stiff board and has split horizontally in the middle. Two of the smaller photographs are missing and one is loose. The photographs are faded, some more so than others. What is the value of my broadside?
– SB, Center Valley, Pa.
ANSWER: While I failed to find any information about the Fishmuth Tobacco Company, I was able to find information on the Just So brand. In 1893, Just So issued a baseball card premium set featuring 15 players from the Cleveland Spiders. Two of the players were Buck Ewing and Cy Young. This set is among the rarest (a term I use sparingly) baseball trading card sets known. It is estimated that less than 25 cards from the series are known. A Buck Ewing card in poor condition (10 on a scale of 100) surfaced a few years ago. It sold for $17,675.
Sylvia Gerrish (1858-1906), born in California as Sylvia Rollins, was a stage actress and casino favorite. She charmed H. G. Hilton, a married man, who gave up his wife and inheritance for Gerrish. Hilton died in 1905. According to her obituary in the Dec. 10, 1906, edition of the New York Times, she died in poverty. Settlement funds Hilton received from his father were exhausted. Gerrish prevented process servers from presenting her with court papers by refusing to leave the Hilton mansion on Sedgwich Avenue and keeping vicious dogs in the yard. Gerrish claimed to have married Hilton in 1901 after his wife died.
I found more than half a dozen Gerrish cabinet card variations, including Campbell Cabinet Cards and Newsboy (#302). The cards have a risqué quality. Gerrish flashes her shapely legs in almost every pose. Gerrish cabinet cards are priced between $60 and $70 by on-line sellers.
Carmencita was a popular Spanish dancer who captivated American audiences between 1889 and 1894, when she left the United States for Europe. She introduced America to the El Jaleo, Flamenco, and gypsy dances.
I made no attempt to research the other actresses. I am certain a stage historian can identify most of them.
Your broadside dates from 1893. The cards are probably rarer than the baseball cards. I found no reference to the series when researching tobacco cards, as the collectors of 19th and early 20th century cabinet and trading cards of stage actresses are nowhere near as passionate or competitive as baseball card collectors.
Your broadside (1) may be the only example known to survive and (2) the same may be true for the cards attached to it. If either is true, its value to collectors of tobacco cards, independent of those who collect the baseball equivalent, is high, in spite of its condition. A conservative guesstimate is between $500 and $600. Given the right bidder in the right auction environment, I would not be surprised if its value exceeded $1,000.
QUESTION: I have piece of what appears to be inexpensive costume jewelry. The center contains a plastic circle featuring a raised white cameo on a black ground. The outer tin border features a Greek key motif. Someone who saw it told me it was a “Gone with the Wind” premium. Is this possible?
– JW, Reading, Pa.
ANSWER: Ricardo of Hollywood, a company specializing in reproduction jewelry from period movies, designed three “Gone with the Wind” brooch/pin replicas. Like most Ricardo pieces, these are unmarked.
There were two versions of the cameo pin worn my Vivien Leigh in the 1863 Christmas dinner scene in the movie. The most common, the one you own, is 1¾ inches in diameter and the cameo face protrudes 3/8 of an inch. An Internet seller describes it as follows: “matte gold tone metal trimmed in both a rope-twist and Grecian key border surrounding a beautiful matte cameo which is finally detailed in ivory-tone over jet black hard plastic.” The second version reverses the colors—a black cameo on a white ground.
The third example is a copy of the brooch worn by Mammy in several of the movie’s scenes. It features a glass turquoise semi-circle in the center surrounded by five faux pearls in a star pattern. This also measures 1¾ inches in diameter.
In 1940, Lux Soap advertised in numerous women’s magazines and newspapers offering the brooches as a premium. The cameo brooch, known among “Gone with the Wind” collectors as “The Lux Brooch,” was available for 15¢ plus three soap wrappers. The turquoise brooch cost 15¢ and one box tab.
The asking price for these brooches ranges from $150 to $175 for the white cameo, $250 to $275 for the black cameo, and $100 to $125 for the turquoise pin. Examples that sell through on eBay usually do not exceed $100. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Auction sold a white cameo brooch for $85.
An asking price is one thing; a sell-through price is another. EBay’s emphasis on “Buy It Now” rather than auction encourages dealer greed. Today, eBay’s auctions are clogged with “Buy It Now” listings that never sell. EBay buyers willing to wait until a piece is offered at auction with a minimum opening bid will be winners. Those who pay “Buy It Now” prices without serious negotiating are fools.
QUESTION: I have an Ideal Fix-It Tow Truck No. 3001 in its period box. The tow truck has its flashlight and jack but is missing its tools. The set also includes a car that comes apart and can be put back together. The box is in fair condition. The tow truck and car are in good to very good condition. What is my toy worth?
– Anonymous, Reading, Pa.
ANSWER: Ideal made more than dolls. In the early to mid-1950s, Ideal issued a line of “Fix-It” vehicles. In addition to the standard sedan, there was a convertible (based on a Cadillac prototype), an XP-600 Futura Fix-It Car of Tomorrow, and a Fix-It Futuramic Space Ship. The Roy Rogers Fix-It Stage Coach appeared in 1955. These toys were made of polystyrene plastic, which becomes hard and brittle over time.
Accessories abound. The convertible car came with a gas can, jack, pry bar, screwdriver, spare tire and four-way wrench. The owner could change the oil and tire, fill the battery, gas tank and radiator, and measure the oil level. The radio flashed.
The wrecker was sold alone or in a set with the sedan. Prices vary depending on the completeness of the unit. Accessories were frequently misplaced or lost. Your wrecker-sedan set has a value between $75 and $90.
Fix-It wreckers and cars are frequently offered on eBay. In my review, I did not find anyone selling the accessories separately. However, this has to happen occasionally. Keep checking eBay. When the opportunity arises to buy the missing parts for your set, do so. A complete set would bring an additional $35 to $50.
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