It’s time for the quarterly roundup of the Top 10 Worthopedia searches and, as usual, I was fascinated by the results. A couple of items from antiquity made the list this time, as well as a couple of valuable old coins, an unusual 1943 collectible from Charles and Ray Eames, a beautiful vintage oil painting and an extremely rare doll. The variety was intriguing and shows that collectors have a wide array of interests. Eight of the items made the list for the first time, so tastes in collectibles are obviously changing. I was especially thrilled to see that an antique photograph with cross-over appeal appeared in the number one spot.
1. Frank Williams CDV
This is Frank Williams, a fat boy circus performer, who at the age of 19 weighed 515 pounds.
Cartes de viste (CDVs) were very small cards (measuring just 2½ by 4 inches), with thin albumen prints pasted on top. They were popular from the late 1850s to the early 1890s. Victorians purchased CDVs of their own image (in packets of eight) for exchanging among friends and displayed their traded cards in specialized albums. But cards could also be purchased with images of famous people, including royalty, theater actors, presidents, Civil War generals, notorious outlaws and oddities. “Fat Boy” Frank Williams (born in 1866) was one such celebrity. Ranging from 485 to 540 pounds, Williams (who was almost 7 feet tall) was considered grotesquely overweight (for the times). He appeared as a side show freak for touring circuses and Wild West shows in the 1880s. This CDV appeals to both photograph and circus collectors. It sells for $25 to $50.
2. 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter
The 1916 Standing Liberty quarter boasts one of the lowest mintage figures of any 20th century U.S. regular-issue coin, at 52,000 pieces. This one sold for $7,475 last December at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.
This item stays consistently in the Top 10, and for very good reason. It is one of the most sought-after coins among collectors. The 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter, designed by Herman A. McNeil, depicted Miss Liberty with her right breast exposed. A run of 52,000 initial copies were minted in December 1916 and began to be released in early January 1917. But the prudish public reacted with immediate objection and the coin was swiftly removed from circulation. A high-grade example with good detail can sell for $20,000 to $30,000.
3. McCormick Straight Corn Whiskey Jug
A McCormick's Straight Corn Whiskey 1-pint jug, in excellent condition, brought $12.35 on eBay.
The McCormick distillery in Weston, Mo., was founded in 1856. It is supposedly the oldest distillery in the United States that is still operating in its original location and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The company is infamous for selling millions of gallons of disguised grain alcohol that was smuggled into Russia in the late 1990s, eventually paying more than $3 million in fines. Although the crocks can still be purchased new, the old ones with cork plugs are an interesting collectible and come in a variety of designs and sizes. They run about $15 each.
4. 1957 Topps Yankee Power Hitters Baseball Card #407
The 1957 Topps Baseball Card #407 featuring Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
This classic, featuring Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, also remains regularly in the Top 10. The card featuring the two famous sluggers was the very last one in the 1957 Topps set and many collectors say it is their favorite. It was included in the first set to feature full player statistics, which adds to the appeal. Average cards sell for $35 to $75 but condition means everything with baseball cards. An example in mint condition can reach $1,500. I’m glad to see it is still in demand.
5. 1915 Austrian Gold Coin
A 1915 Austrian 4-ducat coin.
With the price of gold at record highs, it’s not surprising to see a gold coin in the Top 10 list. A very hot searched-for item this period is a 1915 gold coin with the words “Franc IOS I D G Avstriae Imperator” on it. Many searchers apparently don’t know that it is actually an Austrian 4-ducat coin (which may not always date to 1915, since the mint kept striking them without changing the date). It is a very thin coin that is slightly larger than a silver dollar. The head is that of Franz Joseph (“I by the grace of God, Emperor of Austria”). And it was made of 98.6-percent pure gold. Although it may not have much collectible value, the current melt value is more than $650. Asking prices can be much higher as investors try to cash in on the fluctuating market.
6. GI Joe Nurse Doll
A 1967 G.I. Joe Nurse in an unopened box. This one sold for $3,895 in 2009 on eBay.
I love this Top 10 result because it is so rare and unusual. This doll was made only in 1967 by Hasbro. It came complete with a nurse’s dress, hat, shoes and white stockings as well as a number of accessories like crutches, medical bags, bandages, stethoscope, bottle of plasma, arm band, etc. The doll is extremely scarce as it was only released for one year and then discontinued due to lack of interest. Boys (the usual G.I. Joe market) were not going to buy a girl doll and girls didn’t want anything to do with G.I. Joe merchandise. Retailers didn’t know whether to display the doll with the G.I. Joes or with the Barbies. Today, a naked doll with no clothes or accessories can sell for $500, while one that is fully accessorized might easily reach $1,500 and a mint example still in the original box can approach $4,000 or more.
7. Fragmentary Stone Head
A pre-Columbian carved stone head, Circa 400-600 A.D.
This is another great Top 10 result because it covers a wide range of items (with an equally wide range of values). Pre-Columbian warriors, Roman soldiers, 7th-century Buddhas, Egyptian pharohs, Burmese queens and dozens of other marble, jade, pottery and stone objects from antiquity can appear with this search. Ethnic, folk and Native American pieces by modern sculptors might also be listed. Who knows what could turn up? All of them represent stunning decorative artwork, which is exactly why they are so popular.
8. Hell Creek Fossil
A theropod fossil claw from a small raptor dinosaur, possibly Saurornitholestes or Dromaeosaurus, sold for $381 in 2008.
The Hell Creek formation is an area of exposed rock that reaches across Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota. It has been studied and excavated extensively because it is overrun with dinosaur fossils from the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Collectors obviously love the finds from this region, with teeth, jaws, claws and bone fragments making very heavy appearances in online auction houses.
9. Ivan Olinsky’s “Young Woman in Yellow”
Ivan Olinsky’s “Young Woman in Yellow” measures 32 inches x 32 inches.
In addition to viewing a range of selling prices for a particular collectible (and determining which collectibles are the most popular or rare), the Worthopedia can also be used to look up the selling price for a single piece that sold at auction—even if that sale is several years old. Russian painter Ivan Olinsky (1878-1962) lived in New York and was well-known for his portraitures. In May 2006, his “Young Woman in Yellow” (unknown date) sold at Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers in Connecticut for $23,900 (including buyer’s premium). As more and more people begin to look to art as an investment (and to the emerging Russian art market), results such as these can be very informative. That’s probably why nearly 500 people searched for the 5-year-old auction result of this beautiful oil painting during the last quarter.
10. Eames Splint
A light-weight Eames leg splint.
Charles and Ray Eames were influential graphic designers who made monumental contributions to the style of Mid Century Modern architecture, furniture and accessories in the 1950s. They pioneered molded fiberglass chairs (among many other items) and their sleek, minimalist style is now world-famous. Who knew that they also used their talents to aid in the war effort? During World War II, the Navy asked the Eames to create a light-weight, inexpensive leg splint that could be mass-produced and easily transported. The 1943 result was a molded-plywood design that was highly sculptured as well as functional, showcasing a developing Eames’ style that eventually became iconic. Fans of Eames furniture are buying these artistic old splints to hang on their walls as decorative items. Mint condition examples can sell for $500 to $700.
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books.
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