Q & A with Harry Rinker: Firestone Ashtray, Supertone Banjo, Crosley Radio

QUESTION: I have a Firestone rubber tire ashtray from the 1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago. The ashtray is 5 ½ inches in diameter. The inset is a tinted orange glass. The wording reads: “CENTURY/ OF PROGRESS/ Firestone/ CHICAGO / 1934.” What can you tell me about it?

– TC, via e-mail

ANSWER: The exact date of the “first” rubber tire ashtray is unknown. Collectors assume the early 1920s, a period when rubber novelties enjoyed great popularity.

Tire manufacturers used the rubber tire ashtray as a promotional item. Hundreds of examples are known. The standard sizes vary from 5 ½ to 6 inches in diameter, with tire width ranging from 1 to 1 ¼ inches wide. Smaller examples (3 ¼ inches in diameter) and larger examples (up to 8 inches in diameter) are the most desirable. While the tires have a defined grooved pattern, it is not clear if the pattern duplicates the tread pattern of their full-size counterparts.

Tire manufacturers often issued a different “model” each year. In addition to changing the pattern of the tire tread, the insert color and insert text also varied. While the clear glass insert is most common, amber, blue, green and other color inserts can be found. The rubber tire ashtray faded from the scene in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Prior to the arrival of eBay, prices for commonly found examples hovered around $20. Harder to find examples commanded between $30 and $40, and some hard to find examples exceeded $100. EBay leveled the playing field. Collector interest also waned as the individuals who remembered these ashtrays as children became senior citizens.

Your rubber tire ashtray has crossover value, meaning it appeals to a diverse group of collectors. In addition to the rubber tire ashtray collector, there are the World’s Fair collector, the Chicago 1933-1934 World’s Fair collector, the regional collector and the date collector. The value each sees in the ashtray varies.

Today, rubber tire ashtrays sell on eBay for between $6 and $15, depending on the age and the insert. A Chicago World’s Fair collector might pay $25 to $30, but only if he did not already have an example in his collection.


QUESTION: I have my grandpa John Wheelbarger’s Supertone five-string banjo. I know it is more than 70 years old because I will be 70 in January 2011. I remember it being in his room since I was a little girl. The period labels are still inside. The serial number is 414. What is its value?

– AM, Modesto, Ca., via e-mail

ANSWER: Nick Grimes, a contributor to eHow.com, provides this information about Supertone banjos:

“The Supertone brand of banjos was manufactured by Sears, Roebuck and Co. as an affordable option for beginner musicians. The banjos now represent a collector’s item or curio because the brand was retired in the early days of electric guitar . . . As with most makes of banjo, the label will probably still be on the instrument. Some Supertone banjos are labeled on the outer edge of the pot, whereas others may require you to look into the pot itself . . . Most Supertones were open-backs and lacked a resonator. Many had a star on the headstock, and often they were made from inexpensive woods, stained to look like mahogany or rosewood. There are several different types of banjo, ranging in size and tone. The way to identify a Tenor banjo is by counting the frets. Most other types of banjo have 22 frets, but a Tenor banjo always has either 17 or 19: 19 frets for the regular Tenor and 17 for the Tenor Goodline.”

In December 2010, a vintage pre-1941 Supertone banjo sold on eBay for $77 plus shipping and handling. The listing included a case. A seller is offering an example that belonged to Duke Robillard, a musician, for a “Buy Now” price of $300, but is finding no takers.

The pictures that accompanied your e-mail indicate the banjo is heavily used and does not have a case. My advice is to think conservatively in terms of secondary market value in the $35 to $40 range.


QUESTION: I purchased a 1953 Crosley radio for $40 on eBay. When it arrived I polished the white case, plugged it in, and found, to my delight, that it worked. The radio still has its original label on the bottom. The period manual was included in the sale. Did I get a bargain or pay full price?

– TB, Bethlehem, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: I love researching objects. Your 1953 Crosley radio provided the opportunity to delve into the life of Powel Crosley, Jr., a major mid-20th industrialist pioneer.

When Powel Crosley, Jr., (Sept. 18, 1886–March 28, 1961) wanted to acquire a radio receiver for his son in 1920, he was shocked by the price of $135. He designed and built his own radio receiver, using the guidelines found in the booklet “The A.B.C. of Radio,” for $35. Realizing the mass market potential for an inexpensive radio kit, he began making and marketing them. In 1924, Crosley founded the Crosley Corporation. A year later, Crosley introduced the Crosley Pup, a one-tube regenerative radio, which sold for less than $10.

Crosley’s interest in radio led to his establishing an amateur radio station 8XAA in 1921. By 1922, he had secured a license for WLW, “The Nation’s Station.” A year later, the station was broadcasting at 500,000 watts.

Crosley’s interests were wide ranging. In 1934, he acquired the Cincinnati Reds, building Crosley Field as their home. The first night game “under the lights” was played at Crosley Field in 1935. In 1947, WXWT-TV televised the first broadcast of a baseball game.

Crosley began his career in the automobile industry. In 1930, Crosley introduced the “Roamio,” the second car radio. In 1939, Crosley Motors offered the Crosley Transferable, the first miniature car. The company’s greatest contribution was the introduction of disc brakes in 1948.

TRIVA QUIZ: What radio company produced the first car radio?

Crosley entered the appliances market in 1931, marketing a line of refrigerators, stoves, and washers in addition to radios. The company also offered the Icyball, a refrigerator that operated without electricity. In 1932, the company pioneered the concept of shelving on refrigerator doors.

Crosley experienced financial difficulties following the Second World War. In 1945, Aviation Corporation (AVCO) purchased WLW and the Crosley Corporation. Crosley’s brand name came to an end in 1956, when AVCO closed the Cincinnati plant.

A new Crosley Corporation purchased the Crosley brand name from AVCO. In 1978, Crosley appliances reappeared on the market. Today, the company offers a line of reproduction and new radios, record players and turntables, jukeboxes and other electronic products.

Since you acquired the owner’s manual as part of your purchase, it would have been helpful if you had included the radio’s model number in your e-mail. Fortunately, I was able to determine you own a 1953 E15 “Dashboard” series radio that contains the following tubes: 12BET (Converter), 12BA6 (I. F. Amplifier), 12AV6 (Detector, AVC 1st. IF Amplifier), 50C5 (A. F. Power Output) and 3W4 (Rectifier). There were at least five case colors.

There is some dispute whether the case is plastic or Bakelite plastic. I found “for sale” listings indicating each.

In December 2010, an E15 white-cased radio is being offered on eBay at a “Buy Now” price of $52 plus shipping. It has not sold. A two-tone, cased E15, red on top and white on the bottom, sold for $158.49 plus shipping and handling. An online dealer who deserves a prize for his optimism lists an E15 green cased radio for $495, proof once again that values in the trade are relative.

The $40 you paid for your example appears to be at the low end of the fair market secondary value scale. The middle range is $50 to $60.


QUESTION: I inherited three old Mickey Mouse bisque figures, each playing a different musical instrument, from my great aunt. Two are in perfect condition; the other has a missing nose bulb. Mickey is skinny with a big long nose. I would greatly appreciate any information you can provide about their value.

– JA, Riverside, Ca., via e-mail

ANSWER: Ted Hake’s “The Official Price Guide to Disney Collectibles, Second Edition” (House of Collectibles, 2007) pictures a number of German-made Mickey Mouse musician figurines issued in the mid to late 1930s. Since your e-mail does not contain information on the height of the figures, the instruments being played, or the condition of the paint, it is difficult to provide an exact answer to your question.

Many surviving figures have condition problems. Loss of paint is the most common. However, breakage of the nose bulb also occurs on a frequent basis. Figures with major paint loss (more than 50 percent) or damage have little to no value.

German figures measuring 3 3/8 inches high sell in very good condition for between $25 and $40. Figures measuring 5 ½ inches high, made in Japan rather than Germany, in very good condition are in the $100 to $125 range.

Band figures were sold in sets, the most common being a six-figure Mickey and Minnie band set. Two figure sets are known. The period box adds another $100 to the value.



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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