Q & A with Harry Rinker: Mexican Silver-Plated Silent Butlers, Marufuku Sakura Deck

QUESTION: I have a pair of individual silver-plated silent butlers. The basket-shaped body consists of woven metal strands. The top is a shallow oval ashtray with cylinder cups at three and nine o’clock. On the bottom of each basket is a rectangular plaque stamped with “TA- 01 / central circle surrounded by LOS CASTILLO TAXCO / HECHO EN / MEXICO / PLATCADO.” What is their history and value?

– M Al-K, Allentown, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: In 1979, a lettering system replaced the use of the eagle numbering system for Mexican silver. The first letter indicates the location where an item is made. T means Taxco. The second letter is usually the name of the silversmith followed by a number indicating the order in which the smith is registered in the records in the town. “A” most likely stands for Antonio Castillo. Unfortunately, the alphabetical registry lists for Taxco and other Mexican cities are not available. Platcado means plated. Los Castillo used the plaque on the bottom of your silent butlers between 1939 and 1962.
After working for Spratling, Castillo family members established their own business. Don Antonio Castillo founded and headed, until his death in 2000, the Los Castillo Taller. Today, The Los Castillo Shop is located at Rancho de la Cascade, Antonio Castillo’s homestead richly landscaped with gardens and waterfalls. The site also contains Castillo’s extensive collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.

While the demand for vintage Los Castillo sterling pieces is strong, there is little demand for the firm’s silver-plated pieces. The value for the pair of silent butlers is between $35 and $50.


QUESTION: I have a deck of cards consisting of 47 cards, each measuring 1 ¼ inches by 2 inches. Each has a different landscape or floral design. The wooden box has a label picturing the branches of a tree and “MARUFUKA SAKURA” near the top. The back of the box has Japanese letters and symbols. What can you tell me about this card set?

– R.S., Sedalia, Mo., via e-mail

ANSWER: The cards are from a Japanese card game called Hanafuda, which means “flower cards.” The 48-card deck (your set is missing a card) consists of 12 suits of four cards. Each suit represents a month of the year. Each suit has two normal cards, one ribbon card and one special card.

There are more than 10 variations of the game, including Hachi, Hana Awase, Koi-koi and Tensho. Each variation has its own set of rules. In one variation, normal cards are worth 1 point, ribbon cards 5 points and special cards 10 points. The goal of the game is to accumulate more points than your opponent.

The Portuguese introduced the 48-card game of Hombre to the Japanese in 1549. Prior to that date, card playing was limited to the nobility. Hombre became a favorite of the masses. When Japan ended its contact with the West in 1633, the playing of “foreign” card games was prohibited. Card playing, primarily for gambling purposes, continued through the introduction of new card designs. Unsun Karuta, another 48-card game and gambling favorite, was banned in 1791. Hanafuda, which did not use numbered cards, was introduced. In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai to produce hand-crafted Hanafuda cards. Although Nintendo Koppai still produces Hanafuda cards, its principal 21st-century emphasis is video games. Koi-Koi, a version of Hanafuda, is popular in Hawaii.

Since it is missing a card, your set has minimal value. It cannot be used until the card is replaced. I found several Internet listings for Marufuku Sakura card sets. The high asking price was $30. A more realistic secondary market price for a complete set is between $12 and $15.


QUESTION: I received a 1977 Alvin Theater “Annie” “Playbill” signed by Michael Jackson as a gift from my parents. Where do I get it authenticated and how do I preserve it?

– J.C., San Antonio, Texas, via e-mail

ANSWER: The first step is establishing the provenance of the piece. “Annie,” a Broadway musical based on Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, opened at the Alvin Theater on April 21, 1977. It closed on Jan. 2, 1983 after 2,377 performances. If memory serves, an insert in “Playbill” should provide the date of the performance.

Once established, the next question becomes where was Michael Jackson on that date? Michael Jackson was born on Aug. 29, 1958. Depending on the date, Jackson would have been 18 or 19 at the time. He began his career in 1964 as a member of The Jackson 5. The Jackson 5 became The Jacksons in June 1975. Michael’s Broadway career was brief. In 1978, he was the scarecrow in the musical “The Wiz.” I found no evidence to suggest he appeared in “Annie.” Hence, if he signed the program, he had to be in attendance in the audience or the program was signed at a NYC venue where Jackson was appearing on or shortly after the date of the “Annie” performance.

Assuming one or both of your parents still are alive, you need to ask them how they acquired the piece. If they saw Jackson sign it, they need to write the story and have it notarized. While you might accept this as proof positive, autograph collectors will not. Anyone can make up a story. The key is to link Jackson to the Alvin Theater that evening.

Authenticating signatures is subjective. In the end, it comes down to one person’s opinion. Professional Autograph Authentication Services claims to have authenticated more than 2,000 Michael Jackson autographs. Is one opinion enough for positive authentication? No. A second or third opinion is necessary. Other autograph authentication services include Academy of Manuscript and Autograph and Bob Eaton of RR Auction. All authentication services charge a fee. Further, the field is full of controversy over whose opinions are trustworthy and whose are not.

Store you “Playbill” in an acid free folder. If you cannot find an acid free folder at a local art supply store, try Hollinger Medial Edge or University Products. Both are sellers of archival supplies.

Although you did not ask, I want to comment briefly on the value of a Michael Jackson autograph. Although your autograph is signed on a “Playbill” page or cover, it is classified as a “clipped signature,” one of the least valuable autograph types. Jackson’s death on June 15, 2009 created a spike in the secondary market value for his material. More than two years later, the market still has not stabilized. Speculative pricing abounds. Finally, the large number of fake Michael Jackson signatures has destroyed market confidence. Buyers are cautious.

In deciding whether to pay an authenticator(s), think resale value in the hundreds and not thousands. Unless a high degree of probability (90 percent or higher) exists that the signature is authentic, you may want to think twice about investing money only to learn the answer is negative.


QUESTION: I have an orange-colored plastic Fat Albert lunch box. The thermos is missing. What is it worth?

– T., Bethlehem, Pa.

ANSWER: “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” was an animated children’s cartoon series that premiered in 1972 and ran until 1985. Comedian Bill Cosby created and hosted the series. Filmation produced the series.

Fat Albert, an African-American youth, came from and lived in a low-income neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Many of the incidents were based on Cosby’s childhood memories. Fat Albert’s signature phrase was “Hey, hey, hey!”

My first reaction to your question is that you must have made a mistake. The 1970s was part of the metal lunch box era. A plastic lunchbox would be unusual.

Once again the old maxim “there is an exception to every rule” applies. There is a Fat Albert metal lunchbox first manufactured by King Seeley in 1973. Examples in fine or better condition sell between $25 and $35. I did find one overly optimistic Internet seller who had the box listed at $100.

There also is an orange plastic version, listed as “überscarce” by one online seller. Asking prices range from $85 to $100. This box also dates from 1973. A more realistic price for your lunchbox, assuming there is no surface damage, is between $50 and $65. According to WorthPoint’s Worthopedia, an example with some surface wear sold on eBay on April 16, 2011 for $11.24, illustrating that an antique or collectible’s value is contingent on time, place, and condition.


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.

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