Q & A with Harry Rinker: Lithograph Motor Race Game, Mechanical Whale Toy

A Wolverine Motor Race lithograph board game.

QUESTION: I have a Motor Race Game, a 16-inch-square lithograph tin game board and the six cars. It is in very good condition. My wife and I play the game, careful not to scratch the surface. What is it worth?

– AA, via e-mail

ANSWER: Wolverine introduced its Motor Race game in the mid-1920s. The game contains two spinners, one at three o’clock and the other at nine o’clock. The rules are printed on the board beneath the title at six o’clock. Some versions of the game had a checkerboard on the reverse.

Benjamin F. Bain founded the “Wolverine Supply & Mfg Co” in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1903. Initially, the company manufactured broom holders, household utensils and the equipment to manufacture them. In 1913, Bain built a three-story plant on Fontella Street between Page and Western Avenues in Manchester, a Pittsburgh suburb.

Wolverine began by producing sand-operated, mechanical toys. Eventually, marble power (glass and metal) was utilized. I own a Wolverine Panama Pile Driver powered by metal balls. The toy line was expanded in the late 1910s to include all types of vehicles, powered by a patented spring motor. Game boards followed. Eventually, the company also entered the realm of girls’ toys.

September was the company’s peak production month. Up to 450 people were employed to prepare toys for the Christmas sales season.

The Wolverine company survived the decades immediately following the Second World War but struggled through the 1960s. Sprang Industries of Butler, Pennsylvania purchased Wolverine in 1968, moving the manufacturing to Booneville, Ark., in 1968.

The Senator John Heinz History Center of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania has a small collection of Wolverine catalogs and press kits.

Nette Auctions sold a Motor Race Game with four Tootsietoy racer game pieces in fine condition for $50 on April 27, 2013. The price is reasonable. Since you own all six cars, add a 20-percent premium.

This mechanical whale toy is of European origin, probably France rather than England or Germany, and dates to the early 1920s.

QUESTION: I have an old mechanical toy whale. It measures 16 inches long and four inches wide. The top is gray painted metal. The base is yellow painted wood. When wound up, the back tail fin moves. What can you tell me about my toy?

– EN, Altoona, Pa.

ANSWER: Based on the pictures attached to your e-mail, the toy appears to date from the World War I era. After an unsuccessful internet search, I called David Bausch, my go-to person when I have a question about antique toys.

Dave, an automobilia and toy collector and one of the founders of the Allentown (Pa.) Toy Show, was familiar with your whale toy. Definitely European, Dave attributes it origin to France rather than England or Germany. He dates it to the early 1920s.

Dave provided a retail secondary market value for your whale toy in good to very good condition of between $150 and $175. He based his value on (1) the toy has limited mechanical action and (2) secondary market demand is minimal.

When appraising the value of any object, the appraiser has to consider the marketplace in which the object is located. The above is an American market value. The toy would sell for more in Europe, especially France, although the increase would be slight.

Dave and I took the opportunity to discuss trends in the secondary antiques toy market. As with so many other collecting categories, the values for common, above average, and hard to find toys are declining. The high-end pieces (the masterpiece/ultimate units and upper echelon toys) continue to sell well, often for record prices. The collector base for many antique toy collecting subcategories such as lithograph paper toys has reached the point where the number of specialized collectors can be counted on two hands. These advanced collectors have the common, above average, and hard to find material. They no longer have any interest in this material. As a result, since few new, younger collectors are entering the market, the material goes begging.

Likewise, the generations that played with the 19th- and early 20th-century toys have passed away. The hand-me-down cast iron and pressed steel toy generations are in their 80s. Memory no longer drives the antiques toy market.

A Schaefer Beer bar back sign with a clock in rough condition.

QUESTION: I have a hanging, back bar, tin, Schaefer Beer sign. The Schaefer Beer logo is on the right. “COLD BEER” is in the center. A working clock with the numbers 12 / 3 / 6 / 9 is on the right. The sign is in fair condition. It is dirty and has signs of rust. I saved it from the trash. Was it the right move?

– JH, Eastern Pa.

ANSWER: The F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company was founded in 1842. Schaefer touted its Schaefer brand as the oldest lager beer brewed in America. In the mid-20th century, Schaefer was America’s Number One beer. Schaefer was a major exhibitor at the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs. Schaefer’s advertising slogan as the “one beer to have when you’re having more than one” is an advertising classic.

Ebbets Field, located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Until it was demolished in 1960, the outfield featured an illuminated Schaefer Beer advertisement. If a player reached first base on a hit, the “h” would light up. If he reached on an error, the “e” would light up.

In the mid-1970s, Budweiser replaced Schaefer as America’s best-selling beer. Stroh Brewery purchased the brand in 1981. The brand passed to Pabst Brewing Company when it acquired Schaefer in 1999.

For more detailed information, visit the Schaefer Beer website or the Schaefer Wikipedia page.

Schaefer built a new brewery near the junction of Route 100 and I-78. The plant is now owned by the Boston Beer Company, brewer of Sam Adams and other brands.

Back bar signs, especially those involving clocks, are desirable. However, they also are plentiful. An eBay seller has a “new” example of your sign listed at a “Buy It Now” price of $100.

Given the condition of your sign, a breweriana collector would pay between $15 and $20, provided he/she has the ability to restore the sign. A serious Schaefer collector would not buy it, preferring to wait until he/she finds the same sign in better condition.

QUESTION: I have an early copy of Dr. Seuss’ (Theodore Geisel’s) “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” published by Vanguard in 1938. What is its value?

– K, Reading, Pa.

ANSWER: Geisel, a collector of hats, came up with the story idea during a commuter train ride from New York to New England. Unlike his other books, the story is written in prose rather than rhyming and metered verse.

The difficulty in answering your question is determining what edition of the title you own. The Vanguard and 1938 copyright information appear in all the early editions.

When I researched the title on Abe Books, I discover there were multiple “first” editions in 1938. Size and bindings differed. One seller is offering a “Hard Cover, Dust Jacket. Condition: Very Good….1st Edition, Second printing….” for $350. Another seller is offering a “large 9 x 12,” cloth-backed pictorial boards….” example for $3,135. Contrast with a third seller who is offering a “1938. Hardcover. Book Condition: Acceptable….” for $14.98.

My suggestion is to visit Abe Books and try to find a listing description that matches the copy you own among the 10 pages of listings for this title. Make certain the condition matches as well. If successful, cut the price in half to obtain a realistic value of your book.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s 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.

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.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2013

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