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Q & A with Harry Rinker: Star Wars LP, Vintage Toy Blocks, Moravian Clay Titles

by Harry Rinker (07/25/11).

QUESTION: I have a 1977 “The Story of Star Wars” record album. What is its value?

– M, Wind Gap, Pa.

ANSWER: Researching the answer to your question served as a reminder of the rapid nature of technological advances over the last 35 years.

[Author’s Aside: It is hard to believe that 35 years soon will have passed since the lights went black in Bethlehem’s Boyd Theater in May 1977 and the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” scrolled across the screen. I remember it as though it were yesterday. Yet, it was half a lifetime ago.]

In an age when VHS tapes are a distant memory, the time before home video qualifies as ancient history. When “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” premiered, home video did not exist. The RCA VBT200, the first VHS-base video cassette recorder, went on sale on Aug. 23, 1977. If a fan wanted a Star Wars audio memento, “The Story of Star Wars” record album was his/her only choice.

The album used dialogue and sound effects from the film. Roscoe Lee Browne did the narration based on a script written by Cheryl Gard and E. Jack Kaplan. George Lucas and Alan Livingston produced the album. In addition to record format, the album also was released as a compact cassette, 4-track reel-to-reel audio tape, and 8-track tape. Albums also were released for “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

“The Story of Star Wars” reached Gold Record status, ensuring its commercial success. It also means the survival rate for copies is high. Two recent listings on eBay, one starting at 99¢ and a second at $15, failed to attract a bid. This comes as no surprise.

Assuming the cover is in fine or better condition (the cover has more value than the record), the value of your album is between $5 and $8. If the cover has any damage, the album’s value is negligible.

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QUESTION: I have Baker & Bennett Wonder Blocks. The wooden blocks can be rearranged in the manner of a Tangram to make a variety of Mother Goose characters. A booklet of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, dated 1916, accompanies the set. In addition, there is information relating to two characters named DICKIE-DEES and DEEDLE-DUM. What can you tell me about my block set?

– M, Cherryville, Pa.

ANSWER: Baker & Bennett, a toy company, had its office and salesroom at 875 Broadway, New York, N.Y. The International Games Database, accessible via the American Game and Puzzle Collectors website, lists two games: Coontown Shooting Gallery (1909) and Psychology of the Hand (1919). The doll website Doll Reference notes the “B&B” mark on composition dolls is that of Baker & Bennett, which made composition dolls between 1902 and 1916.

The beginning of the First World War brought a temporary end to toys imported from Germany. Richter’s Anchor Stone Building Sets (Richters Anker-Steinbaukästen), produced in Rudolstadt, Germany dominated the American construction toy market prior to 1916. American manufacturers such as Baker & Bennett took advantage of World War I to gain a foothold in the American toy marketplace. The company produced Wonder Blocks—various wooden shaped blocks stored in compartments within a wooden box and accompanied by a booklet demonstrating buildings and other forms that could be constructed from the blocks.

Baker & Bennett introduced its Mother Goose Wonder Blocks around 1918. The July and September 1918 issues of “St. Nicholas Magazine” contained advertisements for the Mother Goose set. The July advertisement stated: “A big box contains the set of WONDER BLOCKS which are clean unpainted white wood, fresh from months of seasoning in the big outdoors. There is a book full of Mother Goose rhymes and pictures of the WONDER BLOCK characters . . .

[Author’s Aside: Both advertisements also show several Mother Goose characters that can be built from the blocks.]

“If you cannot find them, we will ship the box, post paid, for $1.75. Anyway, send for a descriptive circular and mention ST. NICHOLAS . . .”

Each advertisement also mentions a second set of Wonder Blocks that built the characters of DICKIE-DEES and DEEDLE-DUM. This set cost $1.25 postpaid. These characters appear to have been created by Baker & Bennett. I could not find any historical precedents in children’s literature or the comics.

Valuing construction sets is difficult. Parts are missing, often lost through play. Children tend to combined parts from different sets made by the same company. Lego is a good example. Assuming that (1) the period box is in good shape including the lid, (2) the booklet is in very good or better condition, and (3) 95 percent of the pieces, including the key face pieces, are present, the value of a Mother Goose Wonder Block Set is between $35 and $40. A complete DICKIE-DEES AND DEEDLE DUM set is valued around $25.

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QUESTION: I have two Moravian clay titles, each of which measures 4 inches by 4inches by ½ inch. The first is black with a tree motif and marked “MR” and “1984” on the back. The second is blue with a grape motif and marked “MR” and “1992” on the back. What is their value?

– DO, via e-mail

ANSWER: Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), ceramist, collector, historian and character extraordinaire, lived in Doylestown, Pa. Fonthill, Mercer’s home built of hand-mixed concrete between 1908 and 1910, the Mercer Museum building, also built of hand-mixed concrete between 1913 and 1916, and his Moravian Tile Works are included on the National Historic Landmark register.

After graduating from Harvard, Mercer served as curator of American and Pre-Historic Archaeology at the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania from 1894 to 1897. His archaeological investigations took him to Delaware, Ohio and Tennessee in the United States and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The year 1897 proved to be a turning point in his life. While antiquing, he chanced upon a collection of tools made obsolete by the Industrial Revolution. His purchase became part of more than 50,000 tools and other artifacts that comprise the collection of the Mercer Museum, now part of the Bucks County Historical Society.

As Mercer’s collection grew, he became interested in reviving the clay pottery tradition of eastern Pennsylvania. When his initial attempts failed, he shifted his attention to producing titles to meet the growing demands by Arts and Crafts architects and builders. In 1912, the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works (MPTW) began the production of mosaics and tiles for ceilings, floors, and walls. The MPTW has a Spanish influence. Mercer supervised the production of tiles until his death in 1930. Tiles made during this period are unmarked. Tiles made immediately following Mercer’s death are marked with a variety of backstamps.

The Moravian Pottery & Tile Works became part of the National Registry of Historic Places in 1972. Today, the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation maintains and operates the Moravian Tile Works as a living history museum. Ceramic apprenticeships and workshop are offered. Modern tiles are marked MOR.

The cost of modern reproduction tiles begins at $17.75 and reaches a high of $48.65, according to the “Handpainted Relief Tiles” catalog of the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, available on the Internet. There is no secondary collecting market for the reproduction titles. Their value is solely decorative or reuse. As such, a fair price would be one-quarter to one-third of what the tiles sold for when new. Your two tiles have a value between $2.50 and $4.

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QUESTION: In the 1940s, I was given an anti-aircraft toy gun that was manufactured by the Baldwin Manufacturing Co. of Brooklyn, New York. It is marked “890.” Since I played with it often, it is in rough shape. It had inch-long bullets, probably made from a 1/4in dowel. I no longer have any of them; but, the gun still works. Do you have any idea of its worth?

– RB, via e-mail

ANSWER: Research revealed only a minimal amount of information about the Baldwin Manufacturing Company. The Old Wood Toys website listed an address of 46 Roebling Street in Brooklyn and information that the company was a leading maker of doll accessories. A lithograph tin hen on the nest with a crank-handle and noise maker insert was one of the company’s products.

Your gun is actually a cannon. I found several eBay listings, one of which listed the steel and wood #890 cannon as being made in 1936 and another in 1937. The late 1930s is a safe manufacturing date. Given this, you most likely acquired your cannon in used condition.

The eBay listings pictured the cannon. Its appearance is more that of a piece of coastal artillery or a long-range cannon, as opposed to an anti-aircraft weapon. An eBay listing with an opening bid request of $19.99 and a Buy-It-Now price of $49.95 plus $12.50 shipping failed to attract a bid.

Given the condition of your example, a reasonable secondary market value is $15.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s 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..

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. 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.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2011

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