Q & A with Harry Rinker: ‘Hit of the Week’ Records, Kichiemon Okamura Block Prints
A Hit of the Week record of “Reaching for the Moon” recorded on a Durium disc. It has a value of $2 to $3.
QUESTION: I own approximately three dozen “HIT OF THE WEEK” records. The label reads: “Durium Products Corporation – New York / Durium T.M. Reg. – Made in U.S.A.” Song titles include: “I Still Get a Thrill,” “Just a Gigolo,” “Kiss Me Goodnight,” “My Mom,” “Reaching for the Moon” and “You’ll Be Mine in Apple Blossom Time.” One or two are scratched, but the others are in playable condition. I would like to donate them. However, before I do, I would like some idea of their value?
– GS, Milton, Wis.
ANSWER: Columbia University Professor Hall T. Beans and Joseph Reilly patented a process for creating flexible records in 1930. Unlike the standard records made from shellac, the flexible records were a blend of paper and resin. The new product was called Durium.
Hit of the Week Records utilized Beans’ and Reilly’s new product. Starting in February 1930, the company began issuing one record per week. Instead of music shop distribution, Hit of the Week recordings were sold for 15 cents at newsstands. The first record featured a lecture describing the Durium process, a company sales pitch and a music sample of the Don Voorhees Orchestra playing “Tip–Toe through the Tulips with Me.” Hit of the Week records had music only on one side. The back was blank, offered information about the title, or featured the artist’s portrait.
An early promotion read: “This is the new Hit-of-the-week record. It is made of Durium, the great invention of a Columbia university professor. It is guaranteed to play perfectly longer than any other record. It won’t break if you drop it. It brings you the latest dance hits each week played by Broadway’s best orchestras, at the sensationally low price of fifteen cents! . . . A new Hit-of-the-week record is on sale each Thursday at all news-stands in the city . . .” The high quality sound is what attracts modern day collectors to these records. See:
After an initial success, the company experienced financial difficulties and went into receivership in March 1931. Erwin, Wasey & Company, an advertising agency, purchased the label in May 1931. New releases began in August. The new records featured two songs with a play time of five minutes. In April 1932, Wasey & Company raised the price to 20 cents. The last Hit of the Week recording was released in June 1932.
Eddie Cantor, Vincent Lopez, and Florenz Ziegfeld selected the songs. Many of Broadway’s top orchestras provided the music. Duke Ellington’s band recorded a side. Because of contractual obligations, the band is identified as the Harlem Hot Chocolates. Other famous bands and performers who appeared on Hit of the Week recordings are Gene Autry, Tommy Dorsey and Rudy Vallee.
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Over time, Durium records warp. Collectors have no interested in these or damaged examples. Dealers ask $5 to $10 for commonly found titles. Scarce titles or those associated with famous singers or orchestras, such as Duke Ellington’s band, command higher prices. Hit of the Week Records appear weekly on eBay. Common titles, which include Rudy Vallee, sell between $2 and $3.
QUESTION: I found two, black and white, block prints by Japanese artist Kichiemon Okamura rolled up in the attic of a home I purchased. The first is entitled “Orokko” and dated 1958. It measures 23 inches by 15 ¾ inches. The image is a woman and animals. The second print’s image is an abstract Geisha and measures 22 ½ inches by 12 ¾ inches. Each print contains the artist’s red seal and a pencil signature. The prints are in very good condition. Since they were rolled, there are no crease marks. What are my prints worth?
– MS, Sinking Springs, Pa.
ANSWER: Kichiemon Okamura is a leading artist of Mingei, which literally translated means folk art. Okamura’s folk art prints were featured as early as the 1950s in exhibitions in Japan and abroad. In addition to his work as a print maker, Kichiemon Okamura is a ceramic artist, dyer, fabric artist, illustrator and paper maker. He is the author of several books including “Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan,” co-authored with Kageo Muraoka.
Okamura hand-makes kozo paper. The kozo plant (broussonetia papyrifera), also known as the Paper Mulberry tree, has long, strong fiber, thus resulting in a strong, dimensionally stable paper. The paper is made in various thicknesses and is often used in mending books.
Kiechiemon Okamura, born in 1916, is an extremely prolific artist. Examples of his work are readily available in the secondary market. His colored prints demand higher prices than his black and white prints.
Okamura was in the process of being discovered in the late 1950s. Chances are your two prints were acquired by a G.I. serving in Japan or a tourist visiting the country. Based upon comparable secondary market values, each print is valued between $200 and $250. All attempts to identify the meaning of “Orokko” failed.
QUESTION: I have a ticket from the Jeffries-Johnson “Fight of the Century” held in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. The left half of the ticket contains a vertical block with “1910 July 4TH 1910” in a top block and “JEFFRIES – / JOHNSON (large capitals, bold)/ WORLD’ CHAMPIONSHIP (smaller capitals, bold) / RENO, NEVADA (smaller capitals, regular font).” On the right half are two vertical blocks. The block on the extreme right is divided into two blocks with a line beneath. The first block reads: “SEC. / D / WEST SIDE” and the second “SEAT 13.” The line beneath reads: “SEAT $50.” The adjacent block contains this message: “BEFORE GOING SEND TO / A. W. CHESTERTON CO. / No. 64 INDIA STREET, BOSTON / For a good stock of ENGINEER’S SUPPLIES / You never can tell how long you will be gone! / RETAIN THIS COUPON.” The ticket is in fair to good condition—the edges are round and there is some creasing and dirt smudges. What is my ticket worth?
ANSWER: John Arthur (“Jack”) Johnson, the Galveston Giant, was the first African American world heavy weight boxing champion, winning the title in a fight with Canadian Tommy Burns held in Sydney, Australia on December 26, 1908. After beating a series of white opponents, former heavy weight champion James J. Jeffers was coaxed out of retirement. The “Fight of the Century,” originally planned for San Francisco, took place in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. Jeffries, “The Great White Hope,” lost in 15 rounds.
For a detailed history of the fight, see Randy Roberts “The 1910 Jeffries-Johnson Fight and Its Impact.”
In researching tickets for the fight, all the examples I found contained oval pictures in each of the four corners—Jeffries, Johnson, Jack Gleason and Tex Rickard. Gleason and Rickard were the fight promoters. The seat price for the inner circle was $30.
The first step in evaluating an object is to authenticate it. I began the authentication process by calling Steve Lott at the Boxing Hall of Fame (8022 South Rainbow Blvd., #355, Las Vegas, NV 89139). After I described the ticket to him, he recommended contacting Craig Hamilton of JO Sports, Inc. (PO Box 607, Brookhaven, NY 11719.
After introducing myself and telling him why I was calling, I described the above ticket to Craig. He immediately identified it as an advertising giveaway, not an actual ticket to the fight. Craig indicated that he has encountered approximately 10 similar pseudo-Jeffries-Johnson ticket advertising pieces. He recently sold a postcard made to look like a fight ticket.
While not a period ticket to the fight, the pseudo-ticket is a piece of period advertising. It dates from 1910. These pseudo-Jeffries-Johnson fight tickets have collector value. In fair to very good condition, the value is between $200 and $225.
QUESTION: I have Singer Ribbonaire electric fan. It still works. Does it have value?
– E, Janesville, Wis.
ANSWER: Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Clark established I. M. Singer & Co. in 1851. In 1865, it was renamed Singer Manufacturing Company, becoming The Singer Company in 1963. Although most famous for its sewing machines, Singer also made other household products.
The Ribbonaire fan was introduced in the early 1930s and remained in production until around 1950. Initially, the fan had a Bakelite case. It featured three cloth blades that hung limp when the fan was not in operation. The fan is nine inches tall and weighs approximately six pounds. It has two speeds—low and high.
Sell-through prices on eBay range from $30 to $90 with the vast majority closing between $35 and $45. These prices are for examples in working order.
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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. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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