Q & A with Harry Rinker: Ali Signed Boxing Gloves, Big Chief Bottle, Kuehl Clock

QUESTION: In August 1978, my father and I visited Muhammad Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. While there, my father obtained a pair of boxing gloves that were wrapped with tape. Muhammad Ali signed and dated the tape on each glove. I also obtained a signed and dated black and white photograph of Muhammad Ali, a pair of trunks signed and dated by Muhammad Ali and his trainer, Wally “Blood” Muhammad, and separate autographs signed and dated by Muhammad Ali and Wally Muhammad. My dad and I had our picture taken with Muhammad Ali and Wally Muhammad. I have another picture of Muhammad Ali standing with me. In February 1978 Ali lost the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks. He was training for the September 15, 1978, rematch to be held in the New Orleans Louisiana Superdome. Ali won the WBA heavyweight title for the third time. The tape on the gloves has yellowed. The signatures and date are hard to read.

Although I would never part with my collection, I am curious to know its value.

– GP, Lehigh Valley, Pa., via e-mail

Harry RinkerANSWER: When Cassius Marcelius Clay, Jr., who became Muhammad Ali in 1964, refused to serve in the United States military in 1967, his boxing license was suspended. His legal appeal eventually was heard before the United States Supreme Court. Ali’s license was reinstated in 1971.

Allowed to fight once again, Ali began training at Pollock’s Mink Farm in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. When several days of rain made the tarp-covered outdoor ring difficult to use, Ali purchased a six-acre tract of land along PA Route 61 just west of Orwigsburg. The first building erected on the site was a log cabin-style gym. Cabins for Ali and his wife, parents, and sparring partners, as well as a mosque, followed. Ali trained at his Deer Lake facility for his “Rumble in the Jungle” (the George Forman fight) and “Thrilla in Manilla” (Joe Frazer rematch).

Visitors ranged from celebrities such as Howard Cosell, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol and Elvis Presley to sports enthusiasts and passersby. I drove by the camp on several occasions, but never stopped. Had I been aware of the long-term value of sports collectibles, I would most certainly have visited.

Ali was generous with his time and autographs. He signed photographs and pieces of paper and willingly parted with used training equipment. Authentically signed Ali material belonging to local residents continues to surface.

Authenticity is key. There are so many fake Ali items that distrust is high among collectors. Many certificates of authenticity or letters of authenticity are as bogus as the signatures they support.

The good news is twofold. First, your dad and you were intelligent enough to take photographs during your visit to Ali’s Deer Lake camp, thus providing impeccable provenance for your signed items. Second, collectors place greater value on items signed while Ali was boxing than signed during his retirement. The August 1978 date clearly establishes the former.

Be careful about your “I will never part” claim. The right amount of money often causes serious second and third thoughts.

An authentic retirement signed glove starts at $1,000. Note “glove,” singular. You have a pair. Each of your gloves is valued between $2,500 and $3,000. An authentic retirement signed pair of trunks begins at $1,500. Your trunks have Ali’s as well as his trainer’s signature. A conservative estimate would be $5,000. An authentic retirement signed black-and-white photograph is valued around $750. Your period signed photograph is worth $1,200 to $1,500. The Muhammad Ali clipped signature is worth $400 to $500, the signature of the trainer between $200 and $250. Adding up the individual values you have close to $12,000 of Muhammad Ali material. However, your collection has pair or set value; extra value assigned when material is combined into a great whole. The set value of your collection, which now includes the supporting photographs, is between $15,000 and $17,500.

Had you not had the photographic evidence to authenticate your material, I probably would have advised you to have your collection examined by an authentication service. Do not waste your money. Given the photographs, no one is going to dispute the authenticity of the signatures.

Finally, even if tempted by the above values to consider selling your collection, do not do it. Muhammad Ali authenticated material continues to increase in value and is likely to do so for several more decades. The man is a legend.

[Author’s Aside: I had the privilege of meeting Ali at a book signing at a meeting of the American Booksellers Association. The line was long and his physical condition prevented him from signing quickly. When the 45 minutes allotted for Ali’s signing was over, more than two-thirds of the line did not have their books signed. Rather than leave, which was his right, Ali instructed his handlers to set up a table in a hallway and promised all those still in line that he would stay until everyone’s book was signed. He left two hours later. Ali showed me that day what it means to be an ambassador for one’s sport. It is a shame so many of today’s professional athletes do not follow his example.]


QUESTION: I acquired a Big Chief bottle. The bottle has an embossed image of an Indian and “Bottled by Coca-Cola.” What can you tell me about this bottle?

– J, Kansas City, Kan., via e-mail

ANSWER: Coca-Cola franchised local bottling companies to package and distribute its product. During its early history, Coca-Cola was a single flavor. In order to increase profits, many local bottling companies also sold soda water and flavors, made in-house or from outside concentrates to increase their profits. In the 1920s, soda water was a popular cure for headaches and stomach aches. Flavors were added to make the soda water taste more appealing.

Local bottling companies worked with glass companies to produce bottles promoting their products. Because of the high cost of molds, it was cheaper to replace a slug plate for a stock bottle. Big Chief, Gateway and Sunrise bottles, some carrying a city and state designation, appeared.

The Big Chief bottle was a favorite of Coca-Cola franchise bottlers. Many contained the bottler’s identification—Pickens Beverage Company (Joplin, Mo.), Purity Bottling Company (Bristow, Okla.), or Twin Falls Bottling Company (Falls Church, Va.). Once Coca-Cola introduced other flavors, such as Fanta and Sprite, the individual local brands of Coca-Cola franchise bottlers disappeared.

Big Chief bottles have embossed or painted labels. Painted label examples command higher prices. Common embossed Big Chief bottles sell in the $25- to $45-range, although I found several listed on eBay for $10. Scarcer examples, based primarily on bottler location, can command over $250.


Ask A Worthologist


QUESTION: I acquired a clock sold by the Kuehl Clock Company, Chicago, Illinois. The key-wound, carriage-type clock was made in Germany. The clock has a music box that plays “The Wedding of O’Sandy ________.” The last part of paper listing the tune is missing. What is the value of my clock?

– BK, Fargo, N.D.

ANSWER: An Internet searched uncovered an early Celtic/Scotch tune entitled “The Wedding of O’Sandy McNab.” While the tune seems a bit of a stretch for a clock music box, it is possible. Why not?

An Internet search for the history of the Kuehl Clock Company revealed only several listings for Kuehl cuckoo clocks, wall clocks, and a clock identical to the one you own but whose music box played a different tune.

Value of your clock is between $60 and $70, assuming it and the music box are in working order.


QUESTION: I acquired a mug featuring a decal of a head and shoulders portrait of George Washington in a box lot I purchased at auction. The 4-inch high mug is cylinder shaped with a plain “C” handle. “, Va.” appears in gold lettering on the bottom. I figure I paid about a dime for it. What is its value?

– IA, Fergus, Ontario, Canada, e-mail

ANSWER: The creation of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1854 is credited with starting the national historic preservation movement in the United States. Under the leadership of Ann Pamela Cunningham, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association took a dilapidated mansion with only three items from Washington’s time remaining and turned it into a national shrine that has been restored to its 1799 grandeur. Its collection now includes dozens of Washington-period items. Similar women’s groups, patterned after the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, were organized to save Valley Forge (1878) and the Hermitage (1888), Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, Tenn.

Shape is one of the methods ceramic collectors use to date objects. Although no formal mug shape vocabulary exists, the picture of your mug that accompanied your e-mail suggests it dates from the mid-20th century, possible the 1930s or 1940s.

The decal style also confirms this. The head and shoulder bust portrait image is typical of Washington images used during the celebration of the 1932 sesquicentennial celebration of Washington’s birth.

The mug is most likely a souvenir sold at Mount Vernon during that period, hence the marking on the bottom. Its appeal is more to the Washington than Mount Vernon collector.

The secondary market value of the mug is between $6 and $8, not a great deal but a good return for the dime you have invested in it.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his 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: http://www.harryrinker.com.

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. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804. 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. 2010

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