Q & A with Harry Rinker: Heraeus Sunlamp, Red Mill Cat, Perry Como Memorabilia

QUESTION: My wife bought a 1920s/1930s sunlamp as part of a “job [box] lot” at an estate auction many years ago. When I first saw the sunlamp, I thought it was an old electric heater and relegated it to the basement. In preparing for a garage sale, I decided to clean it. This is when I discovered it was a carbon arc sunlamp. The lamp is marked “AKTINARC / Ultra Violet Ray / Sun Lamp / 110 AC or DC 1000W / Model P / Lamp Division / Keene Chemical Co. / New York, USA.” “UVR Laboratories, Inc.” is embossed on the bottom of the pedestal. The sunlamp appears to be in decent shape—no damage or broken wires. The screen has no holes or dents. The cover of the circa 1926 cord is a bit frayed. I would not plug the sunlamp in for fear of blowing a breaker or worse. What is my sunlamp worth?

– R.H.; Bryan, Ohio

ANSWER: In 1904, Richard Küch, a physicist and chief developer of new products for Heraeus, Hanau, Germany, developed a mercury-vapor quartz glass lamp that produced ultraviolet light identical to sunlight. Küch discovered that mercury vapor gives off a shortwave, greenish light when electrical discharges stimulate the vapor in a glass tube. This ultraviolet radiation passes unhindered through quartz glass, which is stable at high temperatures.

Harry RinkerHeraeus and AEG created Quarzlampengesellschaft mbH in 1906 to develop the “Original Hanau,” a lamp designed for use in medical phototherapy. The lamp produced the invigorating effect of mountain sunrays. It also was used for vitamin D prophylaxis and supportive therapy. As a result, the lamp became a standard fixture in doctors’ offices and hospitals. A separate “Original Hanau” brand, utilizing a “Sun Man” logo, was created in the 1920s.

Heraeus began marketing self-standing, single lamp tanning/wellness devices in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the company offered the Höhensonne, a home tanning lamp. It entered the tanning bed market in the late 1970s. In 2010, Heraeus is a world technology leader in dental health, quartz glass, precious metals, sensors and specialty lighting.

The growing popularity of home tanning attracted other companies, one of which was the Lamp Division of Keene Chemical Corporation. An advertisement for the company’s Palm Beach Sun Lamp in the February 1938 issue of “Popular Science” begins: “That pale, pasty, inefficient indoor look is a business and social handicap. Why put yourself at such a disadvantage when you can get a handsome healthy TAN everyone admires right from your own home. In 10 days you can radically improve your appearance—look like a million dollars—as if you had just returned from Palm Beach.”

Keene Chemical bragged in the advertisement that it was the first American manufacturer to offer a double arc (4 carbon) lamp. The deluxe model sold for $14.95 with other models priced as low as $7.50. Purchasers could put $1 down and pay the balance in installments, thus justifying the company’s claim of a “price so low that it is within reach of everyone.”

Purchasers were instructed to use the lamp no more than four minutes a day and not allow it closer than 20 inches. During this brief period, the Palm Beach Sun Lamp emitted the equivalent of 50 minutes of mid-summer sunlight.

As with the Heraeus lamps, Keene Chemical touted its lamp’s health benefits: “The new Palm Beach Lamp helps increase youthful vigor and vitality. Tends to stimulate glandular function. Often decidedly effective in listlessness and anemia. Children respond rapidly. Invaluable in the treatment of rickets. For any specific ailment be sure to consult your physician.”

Although there must be sunlamp collectors, I do not know any. Chances are strong that your sunlamp is among the more commonly found types. If correct, its principle value is decorative. A tanning salon wishing to display the sunlamp in its lobby as a conversation/curiosity piece is the most obvious buyer.

Given its condition and questionable working ability, the secondary decorative market value of your sunlamp is between $15 and $25.


QUESTION: I was given my grandmother’s cat collection 10 years ago. A hand-carved cat figurine marked “RED MILL” was among the items. The cat is 6½ inches long, 4 inches wide and 5½ inches tall. It is heavy, weighing close to two pounds. It appears to be wood, but it could be a very hard plastic. When researching the cat on the Internet, I did find a reference to a duck decoy marked “RED MILL,” but nothing more. I would very much appreciate your input.

– S.M.; Rice Lake, Wis.

ANSWER: The Red Mill Manufacturing Company, located in Fishersville, Va., made your cat figurine. The company produced a wide variety of animal (beaver, eagle, horses, turkey and wolf) and human (Indians and cowboys) figurines. A foil sticker in addition to the body marking was used to identify the company’s products. Red Mill products were marketed through gift and novelty stores.

The figurines are molded from a crushed pecan shell and resin mixture. Local artists created the sculptures used to create the molds. When the figurines were removed from the molds, they were rubbed with a soft cloth to enhance the patina. The amount and color of the pecan shells produced a variety of brown tones. Off-while examples also were made and are more desirable to collectors.

The Red Mill Manufacturing Company ceased operations in 2001 due to the death of one of its owners. The molds were sold. Recasts are being made in China and marketed under the name Red Mill Craft Company.

Although collectible, the value of Red Mill figurines is low. A seller on Craig’s list is offering a wide range of animal and human figures for $10 plus shipping per item. A resting foal closed on eBay for $2.24 plus shipping.

The good news is that: 1) cat collectors love anything that remotely resembles a cat; and (2) they pay premium prices for things they love. As a result, the value of your Red Mill cat is between $10 and $15.


QUESTION: Where can I buy something that once belonged to Perry Como?

– JG; via e-mail

Ask A WorthologistANSWER: Perry Como (Pierino Ronald Como) was born on May 18, 1921, in Canonsburg, Pa. Although Como’s popularity as a singer blossomed in the late 1930s, I knew him from the jukebox and black and white television. In the late 1940s, Como was featured on a Friday night television program on NBC along with the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra and the Fontane Sisters. Como signed with CBS in 1950 and hosted his own television program for five years. He returned to NBC in 1955 and starred in the “Perry Como Show,” later the “Kraft Music Hall.” His show ended in 1963. Como also did a Christmas Eve special for ABC-TV starting in 1948 and ending in 1986. Como died on May 12, 2001.

Como’s cardigan sweaters were his trademark. Obtaining one of them should be your primary objective.

Authenticity (provenance) must be your first concern. Como’s cardigan became a standard male dress accessory in the early 1950s. Hundreds of thousands of mass-produced copies of his sweaters were sold. “It belonged to Perry Como” is not proof positive. A picture of Como wearing the sweater would enhance the documentation. However, this is not ample proof. How do you know it is the exact sweater? You should insist on nothing less than a detailed provenance, a list of the owners of the sweater from Perry Como to you. If there are gaps, walk away.

Your hunt will be an adventure. Check the Internet to see if any Como fan clubs remain. If they do, make your desires know. Contact the web master at perrycomo.net and ask if he/she can direct you to possible sources. Locate auction houses and galleries that conduct Hollywood memorabilia sales. These auctions often contain clothing from television stars as well.


Tracking down members of the family is a possibility, but a long-shot at best. You will not be the first person who has tried this method. Many of the antiques and collectibles trade periodicals offer business card advertising. The advertising is not expensive. If my previous suggestions fail, this is worth a try.

Good luck.


QUESTION: I own a set of 12 square-shaped dishes featuring a relief motif of a pair of young cupids (nymphs) running in the open countryside in the center. The glaze is yellowish-orange. The dishes have chamfered corners and a concave indent in the middle of each edge. They are marked on the bottom “1801 / ITALY / 468.” What can you tell me about them?

– P.E.; Bethlehem, Pa. via e-mail

ANSWER: They were made in the mid- to late 1950s. The “1801” and “468” are production control or stock numbers. A production control number can designate the mold that was used to create the dishes, the person who applied the decorate glaze, or the individual who inspected the piece during production. A stock number allows a potential buyer to order quantities of the same item.

These dishes were sold primarily in Italian neighborhoods. I’m only going to get myself into trouble if I suggest the color and motif were something only an Italian could love.

At best the dishes are 1950s kitsch. Value for the set of 12 is less than $25. However, in a 1950s Modernism/Retro show, a dealer would have them priced at $75. The first price is reality. The second price is a dream.


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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