Q & A with Harry Rinker: WWII-Era English Teapot, Marx Military Toy Train Set

QUESTION: I have a teapot that was made in England during World War II. It has a teapot-shaped tag that (a) indicates the teapot was made by the women of England and (b) reads “Britain Carries On.” What is its value?

– CD, Beverly, Maine, via e-mail

ANSWER: Since no picture accompanied your e-mail and you provide only a minimum of information, this answer is somewhat speculative. Teapots, such as the one you own, were made to raise funds for the British war effort.

Most such teapots featured a Rockingham dark black/brown glaze, although a blue variant is known, and were hand painted with elaborate ribbon-like floral designs in pastel colors. The bottom of the Rockingham pots features the Rockingham knot and “World War II / Made in England / Escorted to U.S.A. by Royal Navy” in gold.

The teapot-shaped tag has a Union Jack and “Britain Carries On” on one side and on the other: “This English Rockingham teapot was manufactured in the Midlands by courageous British women replacing men who are employed in the defense of their country. The sale of these Teapots in America establishes further credit to apply against the purchases of war material.” The Rockingham teapot measures 5 ¼-inches high and 7 ¾-inches wide from spout to handle.

WorthPoint lists an example that closed on eBay on Dec. 3, 2006 for $72.52. In light of present economic conditions, a value between $40 and $45 is more realistic.

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QUESTION: I have an electric “military” toy train set. The lithograph tin cars are painted in Army olive green. There is a vehicle on each of the three flat cars. I believe Marx made the set. What can you tell me about it?

– J, State College, Pa.

ANSWER: Louis Marx & Co. did manufacture an O-gauge military toy set (#4065) consisting of a #400 locomotive and tender (New York Central), three flat cars with vehicles (a troop transport truck, a searchlight truck and a tank), an observation car, track and transformer. Marx apparently produced variations of this set for its customers. WorthPoint features a set that includes 18 soldiers. Another set on Live Auctioneer included several plastic army tents and soldiers along with a landscape paper background. It is possible that these accessories were added later to a set by the child who played with it.

Louis and David Marx founded Marx and Company in 1919. The company’s mottos were “Give the customer more toy for less money” and “Quality is not negotiable.” The Joy Line, Marx’s first toy train set, was sold on commission. Marx contracted with the Girard Company, manufacturer of the Joy Line, to design toy train sets to be sold exclusively by Marx. Eventually, Marx purchased Girard. At its peak in the 1950s, Marx operated plants in Erie and Girard, P. and Glen Dale, W.V.

My price research revealed conflicting information. An eBay seller is offering a Marx 4065 Army train set in its period box at a “Buy It Now” price of $595 plus $19.23 shipping. Philip Weiss Auctions sold a set missing the truck for $220. Lloyd Ralston Gallery of Shelton, Connecticut sold a Marx 4065 set with accessory plastic tents and soldiers at its April 9, 2011 auction for $150. WorthPoint lists a “Walgreen” set minus the transformer selling on Aug. 6, 2010 on eBay for $154.01 and another that sold on Jan. 8, 2011 for $100.

In train set collecting, the box in which the set was sold has a value independent of the contents. WorthPoint includes a listing for the Marx 4065 Military Electric Train set box—that is right, the box alone—that closed on eBay on April 27, 2011 on eBay for $85. The box was “in very good condition with some corner tape, light stains and wear . . .”

Given the above and assuming your set is complete and in very good or better condition, a realistic secondary market retail value is between $200 and $250.

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QUESTION: I have a Duncan Phyfe-style occasional table, Model 9384, manufactured by the Superior Table Company. What is its value?

– C, Lancaster, Ohio

ANSWER: I live near Grand Rapids, once known as “Furniture City.” Hence, I was delighted when a “Superior Furniture” Google search revealed the Superior Furniture Company was (1) initially located in Lowell, Mich., also near Grand Rapids, and (2) still in business, although now part of Kindel Furniture.

I called the Superior Furniture Company’s office to see what information might be available about the Model 9384 table. The operator with whom I spoke asked Donna, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, if she had knowledge of the table. She did not. When I asked if the company had an historian or archivist, the reply was no. I was not surprised. Companies look forward, not backward. Few maintain runs of their back catalogs or archive their key design and business documents.

Superior Furniture does have a website that includes a detailed history of the company. William S. Lee founded Superior Furniture Company in 1936. Initially, the company manufactured office desks and chair. Bedroom furniture was added to the line in the 1940s and Colonial Revival design style accessory pieces and occasional tables in the 1950s. Your table most likely dates from the 1950s or 1960s. Occasional tables dominated the company’s product line in the 1980s and 1990s. William J. Lee II, grandson of the founder, became president of Superior Furniture in 1996.

Superior Furniture and The Taylor Company, located in Grand Rapids, joined forces in 2009. In September 2010, the two companies merged with the Kindel Furniture Company to create Kindel Furniture. Kindel continued production under all three brand names.

Colonial Revival furniture based upon traditional 18th- and 19th-century designs styles such as Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Neo-Classic (often called Duncan Phyfe) dominated the household furniture market throughout the 20th century. Until the beginning of the 21st century, the secondary market for Colonial Revival furniture was strong. Currently, the market for Colonial Revival furniture is depressed. Examples sell for one-quarter to one-third of their 1990s prices. Although one of the best bargains in the secondary antiques and collectibles field, older Colonial Revival furniture has failed to attract younger buyers. Having said this, the sale of contemporary Colonial Revival furniture is strong. Auctioneers and dealers scratch their head wondering why people are willing to paying three to four times the price for new pieces when they can purchase equivalent or better-made examples on the secondary market.

The secondary market retail value of your Superior Furniture Company Colonial Revival Duncan-Phyfe style occasional table is $50 on a good day and $25 or less on a bad day. Use it and enjoy it.

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QUESTION: I have a framed charcoal drawing of Isabella and the Pot of Basil done by John White Alexander. How do I tell if it is a charcoal by the artist or a print? If a charcoal, what is it worth?

– J. Mifflintown, Pa.

ANSWER: In 1818, John Keats wrote his narrative poem “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil,” based on Boccaccio’s “Decameron” (IV, 5) in 1818. Isabella loved Lorenzo, a worker, but her parents wanted her to marry to a member of the nobility. Isabella’s brothers murder Lorenzo, a fact which Isabella learns from a ghost who appears to her in a dream. Isabella locates the body, removes the head, and reburies it in a pot of basil which she tends for the rest of her life. The poem became the inspiration for several of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painters.

William Holman Hunt’s 1868 painting of Isabella and the Pot of Basil is the most famous of the Isabella paintings. John White Alexander and John William Waterhouse produced variations of Hunt’s Isabella painting. John White Alexander (Oct. 7, 1856-May 31, 1915) worked at Harper’s Weekly for three years before going abroad to study in Florence, Paris, Munich, the Netherlands and Vienna. He returned to New York in 1881. His oil painting of Isabella and the Pot of Basil is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In order to determine whether you own a charcoal drawing or print, it needs to be removed from the frame. This needs to be done carefully, ideally by a paper conservator. If the drawing is a charcoal and framed in such a manner that the drawing touches the glass, it is highly probable that the charcoal may have bonded to the glass. Before removing the drawing/print from the frame, I recommend having it examined by an art curator at one of the art museums in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to determine the degree of probability that it is a study for the painting. Given the era’s propensity to copy historic works, it is highly possible this could be another artist’s sketch and not that of John White Alexander.

I use Artfact to research the fine arts (paintings, prints, and sculptures) and decorative accessories. McTears in Glasgow sold an oil-on-board study for Isabella and the Pot of Basil attributed to John White Alexander on June 27, 2011 for £1,600. This suggests studies exist. I did not find any charcoal drawings among the Artfact listings.

When discussing value, I always tell people there are two key questions involved: (1) what is the object and (2) what is its value? It is difficult to impossible to answer the second without knowing the answer to the first. At this point, I do not have enough information to provide a value. When the drawing/print has been taken out of the frame and an expert has authenticated it as an Alexander study or concluded it is not, send the results and I will gladly value it.

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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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  1. S.B. Miller says:

    Wouldn’t the first logical step–before taking the risk of removing the piece from its frame–be to use a magnifier and strong light to determine if the picture is comprised of DOTS? In my experience that’s the quickest way to at least eliminate the possibility of a picture having been produced in an original medium as opposed to being a print.

  2. Nancy says:

    hi Harry – I was thankful to find you when searching for the
    value of an old but well preserved print of Isabella and the
    Pot of basil by John Alexander. Its in a gold toned art nouveau style frame in good cond & was stored away for abt 30 yrs with family things until I found it – would you be able to give me an approx idea of its value? thank you!

  3. cheryll bouthillier says:

    I have a brown gold trimmed with blue, gold and white design on it. it is numbered and say that it was escorted to the U.S. by the Allied Fleets