Q & A with Harry Rinker: Things of Science, Holly Hobbie Dinnerware, USS Kentucky Menu

QUESTION: I have several Things of Science kits that I received through the mail when I was a youngster. I tried to find information about them but have not been successful. What can you tell me about their history and value?

– MP, Kempton, PA

ANSWER: I only applied to two universities for my undergraduate work—Lehigh University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I chose Lehigh and, as Robert Frost said in his “The Road not Taken”: “that has made all the difference.” Although dedicated and loyal to Lehigh, I still admit I have the utmost regard for MIT. Hence, I was delighted when I discovered the answer to your question on MIT’s Web site at http://ecg.mit.edu/george/tos/.

Harry RinkerThe MIT Things of Science home page contains a detailed history of the kits and a complete listing of every kit documented to date. The following is a summary of the historical information:

E. W. Scripps (1854-1926), the newspaper publisher, established the nonprofit Science Service in 1921. The organization’s goal was to provide articles and information about science to the media.

Watson Davis (1896-1967), director of Science Service from 1928 to 1967, was the founding father of the Things of Science program. It was launched in November 1940. Initially, it sent out its science kits as an attention-getter for its story releases. By 1946, the subscriber base was evenly split between individuals, school groups and science clubs.

The initial mailing boxes were brown. The first blue box appears in October 1943. The Science Service obtained the items it put in its kits via donation. As a result, it instituted a 1,000-subscriber limit. Demand was so great the subscriber number was expanded to 5,000 in 1944, 7,000 in 1946, and 12,000 in 1952. The flyer for the 1957 expansion read: “Things of Science: member is sent a different box of unusual ‘Things’ monthly like dinosaur bone, lava, glass fibers, oil—with detailed descriptions, suggested experiments, and museum-type labels. $4 per year. New memberships limited.” Material included in 1960s kits ranged from copper ore and flexible magnets to a polyprophlene hinge and a silkworm’s cocoon.

Science Service ended its production and distribution of Things of Science kits in 1980. Andrew E. Svenson, Jr., the son of a children’s book writer, purchased the company and continued to create new kits until 1989, at which time the right to produce Things of Science kits reverted back to the Science Service. Four hundred and fifty-seven archive boxes of Things of Science records are housed in the Smithsonian as Record Unit 7091.

The exact number of kits produced is open to interpretation. Prior to the 338 kits issued between 1940 and 1968, there were 20 to 22 kits that were not numbered. There was a 25A kit. Kits issued after 1969 were not numbered. In fact, it is difficult to establish a year for some of the kits. The copyright date on the information in a kit is the best dating information.

Things of Science kits appear for sale on eBay and other Internet direct sale Web sites. Kits sell for between $5 and $15. Value considerations include age (earlier kits usually bring a higher price), completeness (many kits had extra parts in addition to the object and booklet), condition and the period mailing box.


QUESTION: I have eight-place settings of Holly Hobby china, complete with creamer and sugar, serving platter, large serving bowl, and other accessories. The plates have a silver rim, a Holly Hobby blue band, and a picture of Holly Hobby in the center. I bought the dinnerware while living in California in the early 1970s. I know there were not many full dinnerware services made. What is mine worth today?

– SQ, via e-mail

ANSWER: In your e-mail you referred to your dinnerware as “Holly Hobby.” Every Web search referred me to Holly Hobbie. I am moving forward assuming you have Holly Hobbie dinnerware.

When I lay me down to sleep and pray the Lord my soul to keep, I ask the good Lord to save me from ever having to write about certain collecting categories, for example, Avon bottles, My Little Pony, Bratz dolls, and, of course, Holly Hobbie. The good Lord may grant Garth Brook’s unanswered prayers, but he certainly did not grant mine.

Holly Hobbie is a real person and a fictional character. Denise Holly Ulinskas, who married Douglas Hobbie, authored “Toot and Puddle,” the book that introduced the world to the fictional Holly Hobbie.

Holly Hobbie took off when American Greetings obtained licensing rights in the early 1970s. Rex Connors and Bob Childers, members of American Greeting’s Humorous Planning department, helped create support characters and merchandise. Knickerbocker Toys produced a line of rag dolls in 1974.

Holly Hobbie had a face lift in 2006, supported by a Nick Jr. made-for-TV movie “Holly Hobbie and Friends: Surprise Party.” Mattel issued several Holly Hobbie and friend dolls in the same year, supporting them with separate outfits.

I found several versions of Holly Hobbie dinnerware, but not the pattern you described. It is scarce, or the pattern name is incorrect and I am in the wrong ballpark entirely.

I did find a 20-piece Holly Hobbie dinnerware service in another pattern with an opening bid request of $199 on eBay. There were no bids. Perhaps I need to give eBay buyers more credit than in the past for staying away from a rotten deal when they smell one.

A realistic value for your dinnerware service is between $75 and $100. Finding a buyer should not be difficult. There are worldwide Holly Hobbie collectors. List your dinnerware on eBay. Its clientele are global. Ask for an opening bid of $50 and let it fly. Do not place a hidden reserve. As with all antiques and collectibles, your dinnerware is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Place your bet and take your chances.


QUESTION: I have an embossed leather Nov. 30, 1905, menu, measuring approximately 3 inches by 5 inches, from the USS Kentucky. The ship was apparently in Norfolk, Va., for Thanksgiving dinner that year. The menu lists coffee and cigars. A great uncle served on the ship. Any information you can provide would be helpful.

– MD, Bowie, TX


ANSWER: Four ships were named after Kentucky, the 15th State in the Union. The first was the CSS Kentucky, a Confederate transport that was captured by the Union’s Mississippi Flotilla in 1863. The USS Kentucky (BB-6) was a Kearsarge class battleship (March 24, 1898-Jan. 23, 1924) that was part of the Great White Fleet. The USS Kentucky (BB-66), an Iowa-class battleship, had her contract cancelled during construction in 1947. Today the USS Kentucky (SSBN-737), an Ohio-class submarine, patrols the worldwide seas.

The USS Kentucky (BB-6) was built by the Newport News and Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company. She was commissioned on Oct. 26, 1900, and set sail on Oct. 25 for the Far East. The ship remained on Asiatic Station duty until she sailed from Manila to return to the United States on March 13, 1904. The USS Kentucky was overhauled in 1904. She then joined the North Atlantic Fleet transporting troops to Cuba in October 1905. She returned to the North Atlantic Fleet in mid-October.

While it is possible that the “Norfolk” on your menu indicates the location where the ship was built, it is more likely the location of the ship on that date. The USS Kentucky joined 16 other battleships on the famous White Fleet cruise around the world from 1907 to 1908. The ship was in and out of the service several times between late 1908 and 1916. The USS Kentucky served as a training ship during World War I. The end came in 1924 when Dravo Construction Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. bought the ship for scrap.

Meals aboard early 20th Century American battleships were often formal affairs. Menus were printed and cigars were served. Officers kept souvenirs from the more important meals.

Your menu appeals to a variety of collectors; for example, USS Kentucky, Great White Fleet, Kentucky commonwealth, menu and cigar collectors. Obviously, some value it higher than others. Assuming your menu is in very good or better condition (a tricky call when leather is involved), its value is between $35 and $45.


QUESTION: I have 12 Royal Doulton blue and white Yale University plates dated 1930s on the reverse. Each features a transfer of a different university scene. They are all in good shape except for one that has a chip on the edge. I would like an estimate of what they are worth.

– A G-B, Ripon, WI

ANSWER: Wedgwood manufactured your Yale University plates. Yale was one of dozens of universities to issue commemorative plate series in the 1920s and early 1930s.

The average price for a 1920s-1930s Wedgwood university plate is between $45 and $55. Dealers tend to ask between $70 and $80 per plate, assuming the principal buyer will be an alumnus of that institution who is prepared to pay whatever it takes to acquire the plate.

The chipped plate destroys pair or set value. However, it is more likely that you will obtain more money if the plates are sold separately than as a unit. The unit buyer would expect at minimum 25 percent discount.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show 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 letters 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, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also 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. 2009

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