Q & A with Harry Rinker: Auto-Wheel Coaster Wagon, Edison Electrostatic Machine

QUESTION: I own a child’s wooden wagon. The side is marked with “NORL’EIGH COASTER,” the two words separated by an extended horizontal diamond with a sun ray center and a green field border with “SHAPLEIGH HARDWARE COMPANY / NORLEIGH DIAMOND.” The marking beneath the wagon reads: “No. 3 / ROLLER BEARING/ MADE BY THE BUFFALO SLED CO. / NORTH TOWANDA, N.Y.” What is the value of my child’s wagon?

– JR, Bleton, Mo, via e-mail

ANSWER: In 1843, Augustus F. Shapleigh became a partner in Rodgers, Shapleigh and Company, a hardware business located in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1847, the company became Shapleigh, Day and Company. The company issued its first catalog in 1853. When Day retired in 1863, the company was renamed A. F. Shapleigh and Co. The company’s Diamond Edge trademark was adopted a year later. In 1909, Shapleigh introduced its “Diamond Edge is a Quality Pledge” slogan.

When A. F. Shapleigh retired in 1901, the company reorganized as Norvell-Shapleigh. Sunders Norvell served as president for ten years. Norvell-Shapleigh had more than 40 house brands, including Black Jack, Mound City and Norleigh. In 1918, the company again changed its name to Shapleigh Hardware Company.

The Buffalo Sled Company was founded in 1899. The 1910 Towanda, N.Y., City Directory lists the company at the corner of Schneck and Duckwitz. The company eventually had facilities at 95-97 and 150-152 Schneck Street. The 1915 directory notes the firm manufactured “shovels, sleighs and coaster wagons.” Sled sales were seasonal. In order to retain its workforce and utilize its tooling throughout the year, sled manufacturers made other wooden products such as desks, educational items, shovels and wagons during the off-season.

The Buffalo Sled Company produced the Auto-Wheel Coaster. The wagon became so popular that Auto Wheel Coaster clubs were organized across the United States. At its peak, the company had 160 employees. Wagon sales exceeded sled sales. The company changed its name to the Auto Wheel Coaster Company in the early 1920s.

As a wholesaler, Shapleigh contracted with other manufacturers to make products with Shapleigh trademarks. Since the Shapleigh Hardware Company name dates from 1918 and Buffalo Sled Works became Auto-Wheel Coaster around 1920, your wagon most likely dates between 1918 and 1920. The date is tentative because it is possible that the Auto Wheel Coaster Company continued to manufacture product under the Buffalo Sled Co. trademark for several years after the name change.

The photographs that accompany your e-mail indicated that your wagon is in very good to fine condition. Although the wagon shows signs of use, the lettering and markings are in fine condition.

While there are collectors of child’s wooden wagons (children’s wheeled vehicles is the collecting category), most are bought for decorating/conversation purposes or by doll and teddy bear collectors who want an “antique” in which to display their prizes. As a result, values vary depending on the purchaser—$250 to $300 to a collector or $400 to $450 to a decorator.


QUESTION: My grandfather worked with Thomas Edison. I inherited an electrostatic sparking machine which my grandfather received from Edison. It is powered by an Ekonowatt motor. The serial number on the plaque is 51814. The machine is mounted on a wooden base with the word “Edison” in gold script letters. What is the value of my instrument?

– B, Blairstown, N.J.

ANSWER: Thomas Edison, living in Newark, N.J., bought land in Menlo Park in late 1875. In spring 1876, he moved his research and development facility to that location. The first major invention originating from this new facility was the phonograph in November 1877. Within a decade, Edison’s operation outgrew the Menlo Park facility. In 1887, Edison moved his laboratory to West Orange, where he continued to work for the remaining 45 years of his life.

The Edison Ekonowatt motor, which ran on either AC or DC current (there was an adaptor switch attached to the motor), was used to power a number of devices, including Edison cylinder phonographs and Edison Universal dictating machines. The motor experienced multiple refinements. Examples sell on eBay starting at $20 and reaching $50, depending on age, condition and working order.

Thomas Edison filed several patents for electrostatic generators. The purpose of your grandfather’s electrostatic sparker is unclear. Its primary purpose may have been to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Ekonowatt motor. My inclination is to view it as a scientific instrument designed for classroom use.

If I am correct, its value far exceeds that of the motor. A conservative estimate is between $100 and $125. A portion of this value is the association of Edison’s association with your grandfather. You need to assemble as much supporting material as possible to establish this connection. No buyer is going to pay a premium based solely on “say-so.”


QUESTION: I have a NASCO “Hello Dolly” doll in its period box with the wrapping intact. The doll is wearing a red and pink dress with a red feather hat. The box states: “inspired by David Merrick’s Musical Comedy Hit Starring Carol Channing.” I was wondering what it might be worth?

– MK, Catasauqua, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: David Merrick produced a Broadway version of “Hello Dolly,” a musical with lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Steward, in 1964. The musical was based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce “The Merchant of Yonkers” (a flop), revised and retitled “The Matchmaker” (a hit staring Ruth Gordon) in 1955. After Ethel Merman and Mary Martin turned down the role of Dolly Levi, Merrick considered Nancy Walker before hiring Carol Channing. Although the out-of-town tryouts in Detroit and Washington, D.C., were a disaster, the show opened on Broadway. Channing as Dolly and the show were a hit, winning 10 Tony awards.

Kaysam-Jolly Toys, which headquarters in New York, manufactured hard plastic dolls from the late 1950s through the 1960s. Some dolls, such as the Hello Dolly doll, have Nasco Creations labels. Nasco’s Hello Dolly doll, whose body also might have been used for the company’s Gigi and Juliet Prowse dolls, was 21 inches high.

A similar doll marked “A.E.” is attributed to Allied Imported which also did business as Allied Doll Company, Allied Doll & Toy Company or Allied Grand Doll Mfg. The firm was located in Brooklyn, New York. This company made contract dolls for other manufacturers. The “A.E.” Hello Dolly doll measures 11 ½-inches high.

I checked several doll price guides. The book price for the Nasco doll is between $100 and $200. Thanks to the Internet, it is possible to easily check book prices. As is often the case, field prices are lower by 50 percent or more.

Because your doll retains its period packaging, a conservative secondary market retail value is between $45 and $60.


QUESTION: I own several Mary Kay Golden Goblets. What is their history? Do they have any value?

– S, Oklahoma

ANSWER: After a 25-year career in direct sales marketing, Mary Kay Ash resigned her position as a national training director to write a book designed to help women advance in the business world. After a chance meeting with a woman who was selling her father’s manufactured cosmetics, Ash purchased the rights to the formula and developed a marketing plan to sell the product nationwide. When her husband—who was helping her—suffered a fatal heart attack, Ash ignored the advice of her accountant and attorney, following instead her mother’s dictum: “You can do it.”

On Sept. 13, 1963, Mary Kay Ash, with the help of her son Richard, launched Beauty by Mary Kay from a small office in Exchange Park in Addison, Texas. The company specializes in cosmetic and skin care products. Pink, a color synonymous with the company, was chosen for its packaging.

Ash believed in rewarding successful employees. The company quickly developed a reputation for lavish rituals and annual celebrations. A gold-plated goblet was given to consultants (Mary Kay product salespersons) who sold $1,000 per month wholesale. In 1965, the company introduced Cinderella gifts, such as automobiles (obviously pink), diamonds and vacations. The Golden Goblet is still being rewarded.

The success of Mary Kay consultants resulted in hundreds of thousands of gold-plated goblets being distributed as rewards. Although mint-in-the-box old and new examples appear regularly on eBay as auction and “Buy It Now” listings, the sell through price is usually less than $5. As recorded on WorthPoint.com, a vintage Mary Kay set consisting of six gold-plated goblets accompanied by a brass pitcher and tray sold for $15.59 on eBay in August 2007.

Given the above, my advice is to use the goblets and forget about selling them.


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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. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. 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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