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Q & A with Harry Rinker: Plymouth Barracuda Slot Car Racing Set

by Harry Rinker (09/06/11).

QUESTION: I have a “Plymouth Barracuda Slot Racing Set manufactured by Strombecker Corporation, 4646 West Lake Street, Chicago, IL.” Additional text on the box reads: “Let yourself go / PLYMOUTH / VIP FURY BELVEDERE VALIANT BARRACUDA.” I cannot remember how I acquired the set. It has never been assembled. How much is it worth?

– SR, Redding, Ca, via e-mail

ANSWER: This website contains Steve Remington’s detailed history of the Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Company. In September 1911, John Fredrik Strombeck began manufacturing handles out of wood scraps discarded by the John Deere plant in Moline, Ill. R. D. Becker joined him a month later. Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1913. The first toy, a set of ten pins, was introduced in 1919. Poor sales resulted in the discontinuation of the ten pin set. The company returned to the wooden toy marketplace in 1922. “Bill Ding,” interlocking wooden figures, appeared in 1931. The Bill Ding set was one of the company’s most popular toy products.

By the mid-1930s, Strombeck-Becker was one of the leading manufacturers of wooden model kits. In 1959, Strombeck-Becker marketed a plastic, 1/24 scale, electric-powered model car kit. Initially, power came from a battery-powered central pylon from which a wire extended to the car motor. By the end of 1959 or early 1960, Strombeck-Becker became the first American slot car manufacturer.

The plastic model kit ended the era of the wood model kit. Strombeck-Becker entered the market too late. In March 1961, Dowel Manufacturing Company of Chicago bought Strombeck-Becker. Dowel continued to use the StromBecker brand name. Dowel is the manufacturer of most StromBecker slot cars appearing in the secondary collecting marketplace.

Dowel committed a large portion of it resources to the slot car craze. The company hired more than a dozen designers and retooled its factory, cranking out one car and set after another. Dowel’s 1963 sales topped 500,000 sets. Sears, Roebuck became Dowel’s leading customer. The slot car craze only lasted five years. When Sears canceled its orders and tried to return unsold stock in the late 1960s, Dowel faced financial ruin. The company survived by returning to its more traditional toy lines.

WorthPoint lists a Plymouth Barracuda Racing Set with identical box markings to the one that you own. It sold on eBay on April 21, 2011, for $54.14. Since no description accompanied this listing, I assume the set experienced heavy play and had some damaged and/or missing parts. Since your set is in mint condition, possibly mint-in-the-box condition, a more realistic secondary market value is between $100 and $125.

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QUESTION: I have an old tabletop, hand-crank phonograph in a dome-top case that is shaped like a treasure chest. It measures 20 inches x 14 inches x 12 inches. There is no writing on the machine except “pat. applied for.” The mechanism works. What can you tell me about it?

– WC, Beloit, Wis.

ANSWER: This is a case where a picture would have been worth a thousand words. Although no picture accompanied your inquiry, I decided to research the phonograph.

An e-mail from Father Dan in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a listener to “Whatcha Got?,” my antiques and collectibles call-in radio show and record collector, suggested the phonograph “might be a child’s toy . . . Some children’s phonographs used a manual crank up to WWII. The material in children’s phonographs is often of poor quality.” I searched child phonographs and failed to find anything matching your description.

A “phonograph + treasure chest” Google search produced a link to a series of pictures of a Cecilian Treasure Chest Phonograph. This is an adult machine. A caption at the end of the phonographs notes: “Cecilian Treasure Chests are rare—only a few of the great collections have them, as they usually turn up in poor shape cosmetically and with damage to the musical mechanism.”

Cecilian was a Montgomery Ward house brand. Attempts to determine the manufacturer acting on behalf of Montgomery Ward were unsuccessful. Visit the reference librarian at your local public or college/university library and ask her/him to locate the nearest source for a run of 1920s/1930s Montgomery Ward catalogs. Much to my surprise, I was unable to find an Internet site that has them available. Once you have access to the run, start with 1925 and search forward. Do not stop when you find the first Treasure Chest advertisement/listing. Keep going until the listing disappears. There is a strong possibility that the machine was offered for several years. Having the full production dates for the Cecilian Treasure Chest Phonograph provides a more accurate dating tool.

Although a few manufacturers made portable phonographs prior to World War I, the portable phonograph achieved popularity in the early 1920s. By the summer of 1922, most phonograph stores offered several models. The first portable phonographs retailed between $35 and $45, a considerable sum at the time but cheap compared to the cost of a console phonograph.

A conservative value for a Cecilian Treasure Chest Phonograph in working order and very good condition is between $150 and $200. Value increases exponentially as condition increases.

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QUESTION: I have a matching dining room table, chairs and a tea cart made by the Cushman Furniture Company. What can you tell me about it?

– J., Easton, Pa.

ANSWER: Henry Theodore Cushman founded the H. T. Cushman Furniture Company, initially located in North Burlington, Vt. in 1892. He also established the United States Mail Supply Company, one of the first mail order companies in the United States. Cushman’s inventions include the ink eraser, the first ink and pencil eraser combination, and the children’s pencil box.

H. T Cushman manufactured corks, erasers, novelties and wood roller skates. The company expanded its product line to include coat and hat hangers and racks in 1886. H. T. Cushman entered the furniture market in the 1890s. Mission furniture dominated the company’s product line in the first decades of the 20th century. Cushman takes credit for introducing the end-shelf table and the Betumal (Beat ’Em All), a telephone stand.

Cushman’s Colonial Creations line was introduced in the spring of 1933. Although no picture accompanied your query, your grouping includes a tea table, strongly suggesting the pieces are one of the Colonial Revival styles. Cushman added scuffing and other pseudo-wear marks to give its Colonial furniture an “antique” appearance.

Bradley J. Williams’ “The Complete Reference Guide to Cushman Colonial Creations,” published by the author in August 2002, is out of print. The book has a value guide but, given the market changes since that date, the values are no longer valid.

EBay has 48 pieces of Cushman Colonial furniture listed. Almost all are “Buy-It-Now” as opposed to auction listings. “Buy-It-Now” prices are full retail and open to negotiation. Smart buyers question how realistic these asking prices are to begin with. Most pieces would sell for 50 percent or less at a local auction.

Colonial Revival furniture has lost favor with today’s buyers of secondary furniture, especially the under-40 crowd. Why is difficult to understand. When compared to the cost of the nearly identical new pieces, secondary market pieces are 15 to 20 cents on the new retail dollar.

The value of your table and chairs is between $100 and $125 depending on size and design style. Your tea cart is around $30. In fairness, I see tea carts at flea markets and antiques malls at $45 or more. What I do not see is people buying them.

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QUESTION: I own a 1931 Peerless die-cast replica mounted on a wooden plank. I would like to know how much it is worth.

– EP, Hanover, Wis.

ANSWER: Your 1931 Peerless die-cast replica was made by Anson, a major manufacturer of high-quality die-cast replica automobiles from the late 1980s through the beginning of the 2000s. Your replica is designed for the adult market. It is not a toy with which to be played.

While Anson was a leading manufacturer of limited/collector edition die-cast replicas, I was not able to locate a detailed history of the company. It is not clear if Anson was a distributor or a manufacturer. Anson sold replicas in two scales: 1/14 and 1/18. The replicas were manufactured in China.

A like-new example is listed on Amazon.com for $27.95. An example without its clear plastic window box, which you also are missing based on the photograph which accompanied your letter, sold on Proxibid for $15.

When valuing your example, think conservative—$10 to $12.

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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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