QUESTION: I have a 1960s Tonka charcoal grill in its period box. The box indicates the grill was advertised in Life and other magazines of the era. What is its value?
– AB, Stockholm, Maine
ANSWER: I am old enough to remember life before the charcoal briquette, kettle-type backyard barbecue grill. Alas, this also means I am old enough to remember the arrival of the “Sputnik” or saucer grill and the backyard barbecue craze that ensued.
The grilling of meat dates back to pre-colonial times. Just last week, I had a barbacoa, technically pit-style cooked, taco at Restaurant Michoacan in east Grand Rapids. In the 21st century, charcoal and gas are the two main heating methods for barbecue grilling.
E. G. Kingsford, a relative of Henry Ford, is credited with inventing the modern charcoal briquette. When visiting the Ford assembly line, Kingsford noted large quantities of wood scrap. Kingsford built a charcoal manufacturing facility next to the Ford plant. Initially, Kingsford’s charcoal briquettes were sold at Ford dealerships.
The Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago made buoys by welding steel spheres together. George Stevens, a welder at the plant, was an ardent backyard barbecuer. Not happy with the uneven results due to his inability to control the flame over his open brazier, he took a half sphere at the shop, drilled some holes in the bottom, and added supports to hold the grill. His Mount Prospect, Ill., neighbors dubbed his kettle grill the “Sputnik.” He began selling the grill in 1952, creating the barbecue division of Weber Brothers shortly thereafter. By the late 1950s, George Stevens bought the company and changed the name to Weber-Stephen Products Co.
A charcoal briquette backyard barbecue craze swept across America in the mid- to late 1950s, thanks in part to the promotional efforts of the Kingsford Charcoal Company and a rash of manufacturers hopping aboard the barbecue bandwagon.
TRIVIA QUIZ: When did the outdoor gas grill arrive on the scene?
Toys sales were seasonally driven in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, steel toy manufacturers produced a host of other products during the winter and spring months. Mound Metalcraft, located in Mound, Minnesota, was one of these companies. The company began as a manufacturer of garden implements. Mound Metalcraft became Tonka Toys Incorporated in 1955. Tonka acquired the Chicago-based Mell Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of barbecue grills, in 1964. The grills were marketed under the “Tonka Firebowl” brand.
In September 2012, the Twin Falls, Idaho, Optimist Club’s charity auction featured an unused 1960s Tonka charcoal barbeque grill with an item value of $300. The fire red elaborate grill has a rotisserie spit. The grill closed at $160, the result of two bids following a $125 opening bid.
Charity auctions are not reliable measures of secondary market worth. Bids are charity rather than common sense driven. The $300 estimate and $160 bid appear excessive.
In fairness, the picture of the Tonka grill on the Twin Falls Optimist Club’s website is intriguing. There is no question the assembled grill makes a great conversation piece.
Assuming your Tonka grill does not have a rotisserie grill and has not been assembled—hence its condition cannot be determined, a conservative value is between $35 and $45. At that value, you might want to consider removing it from the box, lighting up some charcoal and putting a few shrimp on the barbie.
QUESTION: I have a wag-on-the-wall clock that my grandmother gave to me many years ago. From the research that I did, this particular model may be German and perhaps late 19th century in origin. It has a painted tombstone dial with floral decoration on the spandrels and the dome. The clock has Roman numerals, two cast-iron pinecone weights, and a brass pendulum. I have not found any markings on the front, back, or pendulum. I consider it to be in “fair to good” condition, but perhaps you will believe otherwise after viewing the images attached to my e-mail. Although I had the clock in storage since I redecorated my home three years ago, it was in working condition prior to its removal from the hall where it hung for many years. What is the clock’s value?
– TS, Centre Hall, Pa., via e-mail
ANSWER: I carefully examined the three pictures that accompanied your e-mail. Unfortunately, I was not able to date the clock from them. The difficulty is that this style of clock was made throughout much of the 19th century, all of the 20th century, and remains in production today. A modern example in working order retails between $150 and $200.
If the wag-on-the-wall clock is more than 100 years old, it should exhibit the follow characteristics. First, the body should have a slight warp. If the body is plywood, this is not a good sign. Wood warps as it ages. Some wag-on-the-wall clocks had back braces designed to prevent warping. Second, the paint should show evidence of cracks, mellowing and fading. The white should have a slight yellow cast from the covering shellac deteriorating over time. There should be some minor paint loss. All these characteristics are easily faked. If the paint looks new, it is a bad sign. Third, the best dating evidence is on the back of the clock. A dark patina will be evident if the clock is 100 years old or more. Beware of painted patina, a common ploy used by fakers and reproduction manufacturers.
I date conservatively. Your wag-on-the-wall clock appears to date between 1900 and 1915, perhaps even the early 1920s. The year differences are not critical to value. If your clock is in working order—something that can only be determined by hanging it back up on the wall and seeing if it works—its value is between $200 and $250.
QUESTION: I own a West Bend Aluminum Company Meas-O-Matic. It is nine inches high. The top is an oval cylinder container measuring six inches in diameter. The back has a mounting bracket. In addition, there is a small rectangular window to monitor the content level. A lever at the bottom allows a measured amount of coffee to pour out. The top lid is removable to fill the cylinder container. I had someone at a yard sale tell me that she once found an identical Meas-O-Matic with coffee in it. What is this device’s use and does it have any collecting value?
– TZ, Lewistown, Pa., via e-mail
ANSWER: Page 60 of the Nov. 17, 1940, The Milwaukee Journal contained a full-page advertisement for Roundy’s Coffee. For $1.19 plus six purchase coupons from Roundy’s Coffee, the reader would receive a $2.75 West Bend Meas-O-Matic, which “gives you the two keys to success in preparing delicious coffee that tastes the same every time. 1. Accurate Measure 2. Protected Freshness.” A cartoon in the advertisement has housewives stating: “An appreciated gift for Christmas;” “Little glass window tells when coffee supply is low;” “Beautifully decorated steel. Harmonized readily with any color scheme!” and, “HANDY! A flip of the lever measures coffee accurately.”
A text block notes: “Coffee experts agree that ‘freshness’ and ‘exact measurement’ are the secrets of success in coffee-making.
“Now ‘you’ can get a convenient West Bend Meas-O-Matic to assure you of ‘both’—by simply enjoying flavorful Roundy’s Coffee that is ‘locally’ roasted and blended to please ‘local’ tastes.”
“Meas-O-Matic is a self-sealing home coffee container that locks air ‘out’ locks flavor ‘in.’ Accurately measures the right amount of coffee for each cup. Holds 2 ½ pounds of coffee. Attaches to any wall quickly and easily…..
“Popular Roundy’s Coffee is ‘vacuum-packed’…”
I grew up during the era of vacuum packaging. When using the metal key to unwind the metal band sealing the top of a one-pound can of coffee, my mother listened carefully for the whoosh. The whoosh was a guarantee of freshness.
Bernhard C. Zeigler founded the West Bend Aluminum Company on September 27, 1911. The company’s headquarters is located in West Bend, Wis. West Bend introduced its first non-filter, drip coffee maker, the Flavo-Drip, in 1922. West Bend introduced copper products in the 1930s. The company produced defense tools and other military items during the Second World War.
West Bend marketed several Meas-O-Matic variations, including one for Jewel T’s Autumn Leaf pattern and Hall Crocus pattern. An Autumn Leaf dispenser sold for $40 at Cal Schaver Auctions in Madison, Wis.
A Goodwill store in Reading, Pa., offered a plain model on March 2012 on the Shop Goodwill website for $11.89. Your Meas-O-Matic is worth between $10 and $15. Assume the lesser of the two amounts if you do not have the wall mounting bracket.
QUESTION: I purchased a “DINAH” cast iron mechanical bank for $7 at a yard sale. The bank is the head of a curly-haired black woman. A lever raises the bent arm to deposit the coin in the mouth. Dinah’s dress is yellow. It is 6 ½ inches high and 5 inches wide. Did I get a good deal?
– RS, Cincinnati, Ohio, via e-mail
ANSWER: The answer depends on what you mean by “a good deal.” Upon examining the three pictures that accompanied your e-mail, my first impression was that you bought a modern reproduction. The paint looks new. When teaching authentication techniques, Rule #1 is: “If it looks new, assume it is new.”
My suspicions were confirmed when I examined the detail photographs of the back and bottom. The screws in the back and arm joints are Philips screws. The Philips headed screw arrived on the scene in the late 1930s. The fact that the body paint covers the screw head indicates the screw was in place before the bank was painted.
Beginning in the 1920s and extending to the present, many manufacturers have made reproductions of the Dinah cast iron bank. The quality of the reproductions varies greatly. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the highest quality reproduction, your bank is a 4. Its value is display and/or play. It has no collector value. Its secondary market value is between $15 and $20. I leave it up to you to decide if you received a good deal or not.
TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: William G. Wepfer and Melton Lancaster, employees at the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company, are credited with inventing the outdoor gas grill in 1960.
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