Q & A with Harry Rinker: Carl Sandburg Record, Oil Lamp, ‘Mystery’ Device

QUESTION: My mother has a red vinyl, 33 1/3 rpm Carl Sandburg record. The label reads “A Visit with Carl Sandburg. / For private use only / Not for sale or broadcasting.” She was given the record in the 1950s by a woman who worked in radio, she thinks in southern Illinois. What is it worth?

– BC, Waukegan, Ill., via e-mail

ANSWER: I found two listings for this record album on the Internet. Both are posted by Mel-men and provide this information and sales pitch: “Artist: Carl Sandburg. Title: ‘A Visit with Carl Sandburg.’ Label: Private Pressing. Comments: According to the liner notes (written by William Benton) this album is a private pressing ‘with the Season’s Greetings – 1951.’ It is ‘forty minutes of songs and poems personally selected by Carl Sandburg from his vast repertoire and especially recorded and arranged by him in the Muzak Studios.’ (Note: William Benton was chairman of the Muzak Corporation). There is no record company imprinting on the label or the cover. A rare private pressing on red vinyl – sure to be the ultimate in any collection of American poets or of Carl Sandburg.”

Here is the fun part. Mel-man lists the record album on eBay at a “Buy It Now” price of $575. The same album appears on iOffer.com for an asking price of $750 with buyers encouraged to “Make an Offer.”

There are no fixed prices in the antiques and collectibles business. While a seller can ask any price he wants, value is determined by what someone is willing to pay. Obviously, no one has been willing to pay $750, let alone $575. If Mel-man finds a buyer willing to pay the latter, he should give special thanks to God.

Since I could find no sell-through prices for the album, what is it worth? It is far from an “ultimate” object, Mel-man’s claim aside, in a Sandburg collection. At best, its relevance is fringe. My best guess, and it is only a guess, is between $50 and $100.

The album is not one-of-a-kind. A collector who wants one and is willing to exercise patience should be able to purchase a copy at auction or find an example at a record show for far less than Mel-man is asking.

[Author’s Aside – I did a Google search for Muzak Corporation and William Benton as part of my research. Muzak gave the world elevator music. Benton founded Benton & Bowels Advertising Agency, published the Encyclopedia Britannica, and was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. The Sandburg record album must have been a 1951 Christmas gift to Muzak customers and friends.]


QUESTION: I have a hanging copper and glass oil lamp that I believe came from a ship. The lamp has a brass plaque reading “J. C. & W. Ward / Birmingham.” I bought it for $5. What do I have?

– PB, Bethlehem, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: I very much appreciate the four pictures of the lamp and its details that accompanied your e-mail.

“If it looks new, assume it is new” is the first authenticating rule I teach anyone. “Where is the wear?” closely follows.

Your lamp looks brand new. If one were an optimist, one might argue that it is an old lamp that has been over cleaned. If true, the over cleaning revealed construction quality that is not indicative of late 19th- or early 20th-century workmanship. Further, no wear, especially on the eye sockets that hold the handle, is evident. If this lamp rocked back and forth on a ship, metal wear would stand out.

J. C. & Ward of Birmingham, England, did make railroad and household lanterns in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, none of the historic examples I found in my research matched the one you own.

You have a mid-20th century or later fantasy piece. A fantasy piece is a form that never existed historically. Manufacturers of copycats (stylistic copies) and fantasy pieces often place the names of historic makers on their objects to deceive the buying public.

Considering you only paid $5, you did well. The decorative value of the lamp is between $45 and $65.


QUESTION: I recently acquired a “mystery” device. It consists of two units mounted on a board. The right consists of a frame holding two horizontal gears, one of which is turned by a handle. The gearing works (1) a balance beam that powers a “chopping” blade that rises and falls in the left unit and (2) a gear at the bottom that causes a round wood base, encased by a teethed metal rim, on the left unit to rotate. A tin cylinder fits over the wood base. Those who have seen it have speculated that it is a butter churn, cabbage cutter, device to prepare clay for use in sculpture, an ice cream maker, mixing bowl, mixer for plaster or paint, and washing machine. What are your thoughts?

– BW, Allentown, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: I would like to tell you that one look at the digital pictures attached to your e-mail was sufficient for me to identify your “mystery” device. Alas, I cannot. Being an antiques and collectibles detective is not easy.

Determining what the “mystery” device is not is the key to finding a possible use. It is not a butter churn. Butter churns do not use a chopping motion. Rather they use a slow, steady motion to disrupt the milk fat in the cold cream, thus causing small clumps (butter grains) to form. Further, the way the cylinder sits on the wooden base, it is questionable if it would hold liquid without leaking.

Given this latter fact, it is safe to eliminate its use as an ice cream maker (it also has no outer sleeve for ice to chill the cream), mixer for plaster or paint, and a washing machine. Given the force exerted by the blade, I doubt if any clothes would be able to survive its onslaught. Further, there is no pouring spout or drain spigot on the cylinder to remove liquid.

While the up and down force of the blade is determined by the speed at which the gears are cranked, the overall strength of the frame, gears and lever suggest the motion is meant to be rapid. If this is correct, its use as a device to chop cabbage, fruit or vegetables of any kind can be put aside. Over the years, I have seen my fair share of slaw cutters. This device does not resemble them in any way.

It was not used to prepare clay for sculpture work. Clay needs to be handled very gently. Its purity is achieved by liquefying it and pouring the liquid through finer and finer screens. The more clay is worked, in the case of this device abused, the harder it is to manipulate.

The questioner did not provide information as to the origin of the “mystery” device. If a farm or butcher shop, which I believe it is, is the source, the answer is self-evident—the machine was used to chop meat, either for use as hamburger or for sausage. Over the years, I have seen dozens of different types of sausage stuffers. However, I cannot remember seeing a meat chopping device at a rural farm sale. Such a device must have been there. You cannot have one without the other. The old antiques and collectibles adage “you see no more than you want to see” applies.

The next time I visit a farm museum or historical village, I will pay closer attention to the butchering devices in the barns and kitchens. I have no doubt that one day I will see an identical device and confirm my suspicion.

You own a great conversation piece. Knowing its use may destroy the value which results from the speculative suggestions made by those who view it.


QUESTION: I have a pottery jug marked on the side “R. C. Wills Company / 329-331 Penn Avenue / Scranton, Penna.” The cylindrical tan base has a brown funnel-like top. I am interested in knowing the history of the piece and its value.

– RL, via e-mail

ANSWER: When a crock or jug features a name and address, two possibilities exist. The first is the information identifies the maker of the crock or jug. Second, it is the name of the merchant for whom the crock or jug was made. In this case, the latter applies.

R. C. Willis was a Scranton banker at the beginning of the 20th century. He also owned the Keystone Brewing Company, a distillery located in Dunmore, Pa. A newspaper advertisement calls attention to Keystone’s “Pure Bohemian / Lager Beer, / Ales and Porter.” Keystone’s slogan was “Every Swallow Makes a Friend.”

A banner at the bottom of the newspaper advertisements reads: “‘Old Spring Valley Rye’—A Whiskey that is a Whiskey.” Couple this with an advertisement in Margaret Hale’s 1913 The C.W.C. Cookbook from R. C. Wills Company for “Sherry and Brandy for Cooking” and the mystery of the jug is solved. The jug held the spirits Wills’ sold. When the jug was empty, clients returned it to Wills’ place of business for refilling.

It is highly unlikely that Wills made his own whiskey, sherry and brandy. Rather, he imported it in barrels from other manufacturers, repackaged it and sold it under his own label.

Your jug’s greatest value is in the area of its origin, the northern Susquehanna Valley. There it is worth between $35 and $45. Outside the area, value drops to $15 to $20.


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.

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