Q & A with Harry Rinker: Sterling Silver & Tortoiseshell Cigar Box

The size of the box and the fact that it is is cedar-lined suggests the box is for cigars not cigarettes, which plays a critical role in value; English sterling silver cigar boxes command a higher value than English sterling silver cigarette boxes.

The box features the following hallmarks: an “H” and “M” (the maker, H. Matthews, mark registered in 1893), an anchor (Birmingham, England, assay office), rampant lion (sterling silver) and “W” (the Birmingham date mark for 1946 [assuming a capital W] or 1921 [if a lower-case w]). For safety, assume the box was made in 1946.

QUESTION: I have an English sterling silver cigarette box with a tortoiseshell lid. It measures approximately 7 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches. Since the lid is tortoiseshell, I am concerned about selling it in fear that it might be confiscated by Federal authorities because tortoise products are on the endangered species list. What can you tell me about my box and what advice do you have in respect to my selling it?

– KJ, Bozeman, Mont., via email

ANSWER: First, your box contains a series of hallmarks: an “H” and “M” (the maker, H. Matthews, mark registered in 1893), an anchor (Birmingham, England, assay office), rampant lion (sterling silver) and “W” (the Birmingham date mark for 1946 [assuming a capital W] or 1921 [if a lower-case w]). For safety, assume the box was made in 1946.

The size of the box and a picture accompanying your e-mail indicates the box is cedar lined, thus suggesting the box is for cigars not cigarettes. The distinction plays a critical role in value. English sterling silver cigar boxes command a higher value than English sterling silver cigarette boxes.

Tortoiseshell used in the manufacturing of boxes, combs, fans, guitar picks, jewelry, knitting needles, piqué-work (jewelry inlaid with precious metals) and sunglasses comes primarily from the hawksbill turtle. Shell from other sea turtles, such as the loggerhead, was also used. The carapace (shell) of a sea turtle consists of 13 plaques (or shields), five in the center and four on each side. The center pieces are mottled or spotted. There also is a lower layer of plaques. Shell from this lower layer is less desirable. Actually, the underbelly of the turtle, known as blonde tortoiseshell, is the most prized.

In 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the worldwide trade of tortoiseshell. In response to a question about the legality of selling pre-1900s whole sea turtles, the website Taxidermy.net states: “As you are probably aware, worked items made from tortoiseshell that [were] acquired before 1 June 1947 do not require Article 10 certificates to allow them to be used for any commercial purpose—which would include sale. However, if a pre-1947 worked item is subsequently re-worked after 1 June 1947, then the derogation would not apply and an individual Article 10 certificate would be required. Anyone selling such re-worked items without an Article 10 Certificate would be committing an offense under Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 and, if convicted could face up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.”

If I interpret the above correctly, this refers to whole tortoiseshells. I could not find any reference that applied the June 1, 1947, date to tortoiseshell decorative accessories. Since it is best to err on the safe side and the most recent possible manufacturing date of your cigar box is 1946, you are safe to offer it for sale on the secondary market.

EBay’s endangered species regulations prohibit your from selling the box on its site. My Internet research revealed two dealers you might wish to approach: (1) Nelson & Nelson Antiques, in New York City and (2) Ann and Lou Wax, in London. Send copies of your photographs and ask them to make an offer. Auction is another possibility. Select a catalog auction company who uses internet bidding. Two possibilities are Nye and Company and Leslie Hindman.

Although I was able to find dozens of comparable prices for a mid-20th century Birmingham sterling silver cigar box, I was not able to find an example with a tortoiseshell lid. My best conservative guess is between $350 and $400, but my gut tells me that this amount is low.


QUESTION: I have a reverse painting on glass of the USS Georgia housed in an ornate oval frame. When was it made and what is its value?

– T. Onaway, Maine

ANSWER: The USS Georgia, launched by the Bath (Maine) Iron Works on October 11, 1904, was a Virginia-class battleship in the United States Navy. The ship was commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on Sept. 24, 1906 and christened by Miss Stella Tate, the sister of Congressman Farish Carter Tate of Georgia.

The USS Georgia started its career as the flagship of the 2nd Division, Squadron 1, of the Atlantic Fleet. It participated in the ceremonies opening the Jamestown Exposition in June 1907. As part of the “Great White Fleet,” the USS Georgia traveled around the world between 1908 and 1909. Used primarily as ceremonial and training ship, the ship was decommissioned on July 15, 1920 and sold for scrap on November 1, 1923.

Large, decorative reverse paintings on glass were popular from the mid-1890s through 1910. Reverse paintings of the USS Maine following its destruction in the Spanish American War graced the walls of homes across America. The same applied to the ships assigned to the “Great White Fleet.”

Condition of the painting and frame are key factors in determining value. If not stored properly, reverse paintings on glass deteriorate, primarily through paint cracking and loss. Frames are often repainted. Assuming your reverse painting on glass is in very good condition and the frame has no issues, its value is between $125 and $150.


QUESTION: I have two antique coffee tins, one from “Weis” and the second from “Morning Glow.” The Weis tin has a screw-on lid and a few scratches. The Morning Glow was found in my Dad’s attic and was used for storing nuts and bolts. It is in so-so shape and missing its lid. While I am planning to use them for decorative purposes, I would like to have some idea of the age and value.

– LH, State College, Pa., via w-mail

This Weis coffee tin dates from the late 1920s or early 1930s has a secondary market value with the damage you noted is around $40. The “Morning Glow” tin dates from the 1930s or 1940s. Given the condition of this tin and the missing lid, the decision to use it for decorative purposes is a wise one.

ANSWER: Henry and Sigmund Weis founded Weis Pure Foods, headquartered in Sunbury, Pa. in 1921. Operating on a cash only basis, Weis lowered prices to reflect the savings resulting from cash purchases. Weis opened its second store in Harrisburg in 1915. By 1933, Weiss had 115 stores in 15 central Pennsylvania counties.

Weis followed a traditional store model where the customer gave his/her order to a clerk who retrieved the items. Responding to the new self-service market craze, Weiss introduced its first self-service market, a Weis Super Market, in Harrisburg in 1938. By 1955, Weis had 35 supermarkets, representing a consolidation of its 115 smaller stores.

Weis utilized house brands. Your Weis coffee tin dates from the late 1920s or early 1930s. Its secondary market value with the damage you noted is around $40.

Morning Glow coffee was an import brand of R. L. Gerhart and Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A different style one-pound “Morning Glow” can with lid and in very good condition closed on eBay for $41. Your “Morning Glow” tin dates from the 1930s or 1940s. Given the condition of this tin and the missing lid, your decision to use it for decorative purposes is a wise one.


QUESTION: I have a Monroe Educator-Calculator. It measures 8 inches by 12 inches and is dated 1939. What is its value?

– R, Roswell, N.M.

ANSWER: The Monroe Calculator Company, founded by Jay R. Monroe, in 1912, was a leading maker of adding machines and calculators. The company was headquartered in Orange and Morris Plains, N.J., and had additional manufacturing plants in Amsterdam and Bristol, Va. The company made hand-cranked model calculators. Its “Series L” machines were produced from the 1930s through the 1960s.

The collecting value of these machines is minimal. However, their decorative/conversation value ranges between $35 and $65. Normally, when I encounter one at an appraisal clinic, I ask the owner if he/she owns a boat. If all else fails, these old machines make great boat anchors.

Much to my surprise, the MIT Museum Collection includes two dozen Monroe Calculator Company models. Consider contacting the museum. If the museum does not have an example of your model, it might be open to a donation. I doubt if the museum would offer to buy it.


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.

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One Comments

  1. Regarding the Sterling Silver & Tortoiseshell Cigar Box – definitely send pictures to a reputable dealer, they will advise you on the regulations you should be aware of as well as possibly purchasing the item from you. They do need images of the item including any defects and certainly images of the hallmarks. As rightly said above Ebay do prevent from selling endangered species but for individual websites they will have their own rules.
    http://www.acsilver.co.uk