Q & A with Harry Rinker: Musical Compact, Commemorative Token, Mercury Glass Bird

QUESTION: My mother-in-law gave me a rectangular compact with a surface mirror when she returned from a trip to Japan in the 1970s. Opening the lid trips a knob for a music box that plays the theme to “Love Story.” What is the value of my compact?

– S.S., Princeton Junction, N.J.

ANSWER: The movie “Love Story,” an adaptation of a novel by Erich Segal, was released in the 1970s. “Where Do I Begin” was the movie’s theme song.

Francis Lai wrote the music and Carl Sigman the lyrics. Although Andy Williams recorded the biggest hit version, Rick Astley, Shirley Bassey, Francis Lai (accompanied by a full orchestra), Henry Mancini and Johnny Mathis also recorded the song.

The popular use of compacts began in the 1920s. Collectors consider the mid-1930s through the late 1950s as the compact’s golden age. Compacts made before 1970 are referred to as vintage compacts.

Compacts are found in thousands of different shapes, styles, and decorative motifs. Decorative theme, construction material, manufacturer and novelty are the four major collecting focuses.

In searching the Internet, I found a comparable musical compact with a Malaysian map on the cover manufactured by Clover. It sold for just over $10, a much lower price than one would find in an antiques mall or show.

Your compact’s secondary market collectible resale value is between $20 and $25. The song selection adds to the value.


QUESTION: I found a “C. D. Peacock” coin while visiting a Michigan farm. One of the inscriptions on its back reads: “This minute piece of steel is a souvenir of the Chicago fire of 1871.” What is its value?

– W.B., Crestview, Fla.

ANSWER: Elijah Peacock founded the House of Peacock, a retail jewelry establishment, in 1837, the same year Chicago was incorporated. The company’s valuable merchandise survived the 1871 Chicago fire because it was housed in a fireproof vault. When Charles Daniel Peacock, Elijah’s son, assumed control of the House of Peacock in 1889, the name was changed to C. D. Peacock.

The C. D. Peacock firm is still in business and caters to an upscale clientele. As it expanded in the Chicago area it built showpiece stores. The brass Peacock doors of its store at State and Monroe inside the world-famous Parker House are one of Chicago’s architectural landmarks.

The issuing of commemorative medals/tokens to celebrate anniversaries and other special events was a common practice from the late 19th century through the late 1930s. C. D. Peacock’s one-hundredth anniversary coin features relief images of Elijah and Charles Daniel Peacock on the front and relief images of three major events—1830 Fort Dearborn, 1871 fire, and 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition—on the back. It most likely was distributed as a gift to C. D. Peacock’s customers when they made a purchase during the firm’s centennial year.

Because of its local historical importance, the value of the Peacock anniversary medal depends on its location. In Chicago, it has a value between $40 and $50. Outside the Chicago market, its value is cut by one quarter, saved from a harsher cut because of its interest to fire fighters.


QUESTION: I own a German, Art Deco flamingo Christmas ornament. Collectors who are familiar with this type of ornament have informed me that it is mercury glass. It is five inches long and four inches high. There are a few discolored spots in the mercury glass but no chips or cracks. Its spun glass tail is missing. Can you tell me what it is worth?

— MK, Evanston, Ill.

ANSWER: Mercury glass is a light-bodied, double-walled glass that was “silvered” by applying a solution of silver nitrate to the inside of the object through a hole in the base. It reached the peak of its popularity in the early 20th century. While I believe your bird is chemically coated with some substance on the inner surface to provide the silver sheen to the body, I am not convinced you have “true” mercury glass. Mercury glass does not tend to spot or discolor.

The contrast of the dark beak, top knot, wings and feet with the silver body is certainly Art Deco in approach. You are correct in assuming the bird had some form of tail, most likely spun glass.

Call me a “Doubting Harry,” but I suspect your figurine is not a Christmas ornament. How would you hang it on a tree? Clearly, a traditional ornament cap is out. German glass bird Christmas ornaments have a depression (hole) in the bottom of the belly that attached to a knob on a metal clip.

You have what I call a decorative novelty. The Pennsylvania Germans have a saying that sums this up: “Just for Nice.”

Assuming your bird, identifying it as a flamingo is a stretch, dates from the 1920s/1930s, its value without its tail is $15 to $20.


QUESTION: I received a doll of a reclining nude figure from an elderly neighbor. Was it a plaything or used for something else? How can I tell if it is ivory? How do I date it?

– E-mail Question

ANSWER: The photographs that accompanied your e-mail made identification easy.

You own a Chinese medicine doll, often referred to as a doctor’s doll. Historically, these dolls were found in upper class Chinese households. Custom forbade an upper class woman from undressing in front of a doctor. Instead, she described her medical problems by pointing to a nude model.

If your figurine is ivory, it will exhibit one or more of the following characteristics. If a cross section cut is present, you will see concentric growth lines, known as Lines of Owen. If cut lengthwise, these lines appear as triangles. Also look for intersecting lines with a diamond-shape between them, known as Lines of Retzius. Finally, elephant ivory has a fine, even grain.

Like wood, ivory ages. Cracking is the most commonly found aging sign. Fine undulations may appear in the surface. If the doll comes with a platform and/or box, their aging characteristics is another dating clue.

Chinese medicine dolls date back hundreds of years. They are still made, thus making them very difficult to date. Most post-1920s examples are the results of sales to sailors and tourists. Older dolls tend to have elaborate carving and are often artist signed.

Your doll most likely is from the mid-20th century. Examples from this era are common. They sell regularly on eBay between $200 and $300; below the fair market value just for the ivory. Since these are being bought primarily by dealers, they do not pay more to allow themselves sufficient profit margin. The dealers cut the ivory figurines into slabs and sell them as separate units, thus creating a higher commercial value for the ivory alone than the historical/collectible value of the doll. However, if sold at auction, a private buyer or ivory artisan would most like pay another $50 to $75 to avoid the dealer mark-up.

Should you not be able to establish sufficient age provenance for you doll, you may have difficulty selling it because of endangered species legislation. Make certain you sell to a dealer or auction house qualified to handle this material.


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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