Q & A with Harry Rinker: ‘The Good Fairy’ Bookends, Billy Possum Button
QUESTION: My mother owns a pair of bronze “The Good Fairy” bookends. Recently, I was watching the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” and saw a similar Good Fairy item that was valued at more than a thousand dollars. I had no success researching “The Good Fairy” bookends. I plan to obtain bronze polish and shine them up. I do not believe it was ever done. What can you tell me about these bookends?
– MB, Redding, Ca., via e-mail
ANSWER: Do not, repeat DO NOT, polish your bookends. Your bookends are not bronze. They are zinc with a bronze coating applied via an “Electroformed” or “Galvano” process. The same applies to bookends or other metal pieces marked Armor Bronze, Galvano Bronze, Pompeian Bronze or Marion Bronze. Collectors prefer the patina that has developed over the years. Polishing your bookends will lessen their value.
The Armor Bronze Company of New York made “The Good Fairy” bookends in the mid-1920s. Internet research produced a seller asking $485 for a pair listed as “bronze clad polychrome.” His photographs show a powder blue color inside the panel on the front of the base and on the mound beneath the fairy’s feet. The pictures that accompanied your e-mail do not show this polychrome feature. Either someone removed it in a previous polishing or your bookends are a variation. I suspect the latter.
“The Good Fairy” arrived on the scene in 1916 as a statue. Several versions were made, the largest measuring about 12 inches in height. Jessie McCutcheon Raleigh, a Chicago doll maker, created “The Good Fairy” as a symbol of happiness, innocence and luck to dispel the gloom of the times. “Good Fairy” clubs sprang up around the world.
Josephine Kern (Mrs. James Mapes Dodge) sculpted the figure. However, the base of the mound is marked “© / J.M.R. / 1916.” “J. M. R.” is Jessie McCutcheon Raleigh. Mary Mapes Dodes, Josephine’s mother-in-law, was the author of “Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates” and editor of St. Nicholas magazine. Biographical information about Josephine Kern is scarce. “Hercules Archer,” a 1920s sculpture, and The Rickenbacker Trophy (1924) are among her other works.
The statue inspired the “Message of the Good Fairy,” a poem by L. Robinson. The final stanza reads:
“As long as I stand with this smile on my face
And my arms outstretched so high,
If you think of the friend that sent me to you,
You can never be blue if you try.”
“The Good Fairy” appeared on a variety of bookends, lamp bases, and statues (including one of the fairy standing on top of a globe). Fairy Soap of Cincinnati offered copies of the statue as a premium to users who send in the requisite number of labels and wrappers.
“The Good Fairy” bookends are pictured in Gerald P. McBride’s “A Collector’s Guide to Bookends,” published by Schiffer Publishing in 2000. An Internet search of “The Good Fairy Statue” will lead you to an L. M. Montgomery Web site containing Mary Beth Calvert’s “The Good Fairy Statue” article.
The value of your “The Good Fairy” bookends sans the polychrome addition is between $300 and $350, less than the value suggested by “Pawn Stars.” Remember, the item on the show was not identical to your bookends. In order for value to transfer in the antiques and collectibles business, the comparison must be apple to apple. Even then, the transfer of value is questionable.
QUESTION: In going through my mother’s sewing basket, I discovered a button featuring a possum in raised relief and “BILLY / POSSUM.” I have no idea what I have. Can you help?
– F, Janesville, Wis., via email
ANSWER: President Theodore Roosevelt, following the tradition of United States presidents serving only two terms, declined to run for re-election in 1908. The Republicans chose William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, who went on to defeat Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Taft, a portly individual, was a favorite subject of the political cartoonists of the day.
In early 1909, Taft attended a dinner in Georgia, the menu of which included “Opossum aux patates” (possum with sweet potatoes). In the spirit of the evening, Taft declared he was “for possum first, last, and all the time!” Within days, political cartoonists were portraying Taft as Billy Possum. James S. Sherman, Taft’s vice president, became known as Jimmy Possum.
Billy Possum appeared on buttons, postcards, and toys. Steiff first produced a “Billy Possum” doll in 1910. It remained in production until 1914. An American-made stuffed possum toy had a label marked “goodbye Teddy Bear, hello Billy Possum.”
An alternate explanation for the Billy Possum attribution is associated with Taft’s habit of falling asleep. Taft suffered from narcolepsy, perhaps the result of sleep apnea (unidentified at the time). Since possums play dead when cornered, Taft’s sleep was equated to his playing possum.
Alas for Taft, the Billy Possum image did not help him politically. Theodore Roosevelt’s lovable Teddy Bear remained the king of the hill. Further, Taft and Roosevelt, once good friends, had a falling out in 1910 with Taft siding with conservative Republicans and Roosevelt heading up the party’s progressives. In 1912, Democrat Woodrow Wilson became president when the Republican vote split between Taft, the Republican candidate, and Roosevelt, the Progressive/Bull Moose candidate.
The brass-shell Billy Possum clothing button was manufactured in at least two sizes. The large size, measuring just over an inch in diameter, is valued between $35 and $40. The smaller size retails around $25. These buttons appear for sale on eBay on a regular basis. Final results vary widely. “Buy It Now” prices usually exceed the above values.
QUESTION: I recently purchased a piece of hand-wrought metal that measuring 7/8 inches wide by 3 inches long. It is marked “ROYCROFT” and has a trademark of an “R” in a circle above which is a stylized tree with a base and two vertical branches. Can you identify the form and tell me its value?
– SD, Orlando, Fla., via e-mail
ANSWER: The pictures that accompanied your e-mail suggest the form is either a large napkin ring or possibly a bracelet. If a bracelet, it would require a special person to wear it because of its length and sharp curve.
When in doubt consult an expert. An e-mail to Dave Kornacki of roycroftcopper.com produced this response: “Napkin Ring. Very late production. 1930s probably. People do bend them into bracelets tho. Either way it’s not exactly the Shop’s best work.”
Elbert Hubbard, once part owner of the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, New York, founded the Roycroft community in 1895. Named after the London printers Samuel and Thomas Roycroft (1650-1690), the community is located in East Aurora, Erie County, New York. William Morris and John Rushin, principles in the English Arts and Crafts movement, strongly influenced Hubbard’s desire to create a community that included bookbinders, furniture makers, leathersmiths, metalsmiths, and printers. In 1903 he built the Roycroft Inn.
[Author’s Aside: I have visited and stayed at the Roycroft Inn on several occasions. It continues to retain its Arts and Crafts theme. If visiting, ask for one of the Arts and Crafts rooms. Do not forget to try the Inn’s famous Black Bean soup. East Aurora also is home to Fisher-Price and has an excellent toy museum.]
In 1915, Elbert Hubbard and his wife were passengers aboard the Lusitania when it was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine. They did not survive. The community began a gradual decline, ending its initial phase in 1938. The recent Arts and Crafts revival has led to a renaissance of the Roycroft community. In 1994, the Margeret L. Wendt Foundation provided funds to restore the Roycroft Inn. Arts and Crafts festivals and exhibitions occur annually.
The value of your napkin ring is between $75 and $90. When converted to a bracelet, the value jumps another $25.
QUESTION: My family owns a green Planters Peanut jar. How old is it and what is its value?
– Dave, Reading, Pa., via email
ANSWER: The green Planters Peanut jar is a fantasy item at best and a fake at worst. All Planters Peanut countertop jars issued by the company were made of clear glass. See Roger and Ginny Johnson’s Web site for more information.
A fantasy item is an item that never existed historically. In the case of your jar, the manufacturer copied an older clear jar but issued it in emerald green. The emerald green jar is still sold by reproduction wholesalers. When it appears in the market, it is generally priced between $25 and $40, although I have seen some priced higher. Most sellers fail to disclose its recent origin, which is why most collectors refer to the colored jars as fakes.
The emerald green jar has been around for over 25 years, thus creating confusion when found in the homes of older individuals. When the seller admits the truth about the jar’s origin, it sells in the $10 to $15 range.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.
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“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 email@example.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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