Q & A with Harry Rinker: Mid-Century Modern Penn State Classroom Chair

Thonet Industries produced several mid-20th-century design variations of this chair, some designed for use as dining table chairs and others (heavier in form) for auditorium and classroom use. Modernist dealers ask between $225 and $300 for the dining room versions. This classroom version lists around $100.

QUESTION: In the 1990s, I bought four (4) bentwood plywood classroom chairs. The remains of a paper label that contains a circle motif with the letters: “T_ON…AT…” is on the bottom of one of the chairs. There also is a metal tag with “PSC” and an inventory number. “PSC” stands for Pennsylvania State College. The name changed to Pennsylvania State University in the early 1950s. What is the value of the chairs?

– AB, State College, Pa.

ANSWER: Pennsylvania State University, known as Penn State, began life as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania on Feb. 22, 1855. On May 1, 1862, the name was changed to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania and in 1874 to Pennsylvania State College. PSC became Pennsylvania State University in 1953.

The “T_ON…” on the label is “THONET.” Thonet Industries, Inc. is a United States firm which traces its heritage back to Vienna’s Gebrüder Thonet. Michael Thonet (1796-1871) founded Gebr?der Thonet in 1853. By 1900, the firm had 52 European factories making bentwood furniture. In 1922, Gebr?der Thonet became part of Thonet-Mundus, a holding company.

In 1938, Leopold Pilzer, head of Thonet-Mundus, purchased three United States furniture manufacturers, organized them as Thonet Industries, Inc., and established headquarters in New York City. In 1962, Simmons Company acquired Thonet Industries. In 1973, James Riddering, president of Thonet Industries, moved Thonet Industries, Inc. manufacturing operations to York, Pa. Gulf & Western acquired Simmons Company in 1979. In 1987, Shelby Williams purchased Thonet Industries, Inc.’s, assets and historical collection from Gulf and Western, and separated the American company from its European parent.

Author’s Aside: I served as the executive director of the Historical Society of York County (Pa.) from late 1972 until early 1977, the period when Thonet Industries was located in York. In celebration of the American Bicentennial in 1976, Thonet Industries created a version of the famous Thonet café chair with a bentwood “76” in the center of the back. I acquired a pair, which is among my prized possessions. Thonet Industries also issued a poster series honoring famous 20th-century industrial designers such as Marcel Breuer. These also are part of my collection.

Thonet produced several mid-20th-century design variations of your chair, some designed for use as dining table chairs and others (heavier in form) for auditorium and classroom use. Modernist dealers ask between $225 and $300 for the dining room versions. The classroom version lists around $100.

The “PSC” inventory label adds extra value, perhaps a 10 to 15 percent premium, only in central/eastern Pennsylvania, where there is a core of collectors for antique Penn State items. Of course, if you are lucky enough to find a Penn State graduate who also is a modernist collector, ask double the price.

QUESTION: As a youngster, I remember listening to a 33 1/3 record entitled “A Day in the Life of a Dinosaur.” I would like to know more about the record and where I might be able to obtain a copy.

– R, Reading, Pa.

ANSWER: “A Day in the Life of a Dinosaur” (Golden LP 150) was released by Golden Records in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Phil Foster was the voice of “Bronty.” The 33 1/3 long-play record contains 12 songs that tell the musical story of Terre Naute, a young time-traveler who goes back to the prehistoric period and befriends Bronty, a dinosaur. The 12 songs are: How Do You Talk To A Dinosaur; My Name Is Brontosaurus; Pity The Poor Old Fossil; A Day In The Life of a Dinosaur; Bronty and Terra Naute Get Stuck; The Rescue; It’s Not Smart To Be Dumb; Crazy Mixed-Up Allosaurus; There’s Just No Room On Earth; Bronty and Terre Naute Talk; Goodbye Bronty; and, Terra Naute Returns To The 20th Century. The record has somewhat of a gruesome ending. While Terre Naute returns to his century, Bronty ends up in a tar pit on his way to fossilization.

Author’s Aside: For a brief biography of Phil Foster, a comedian best known for his role as Frank DeFazio on “Laverne & Shirley,” click here.

Arthur Shimkin, a Grammy Award-winning children’s music producer, founded Golden Records in 1948. At the time, Shimkin worked for Simon & Schuster, founded by Richard Simon and Max Shuster in 1948. Golden Records is best known for its Little Golden Records, multiple series of 6-inch and 7-inch single, 78 rpm records. Peter Muldavin’s “The Complete Guide to Vintage Children’s Records: Identification & Value Guide” (Collector Books, 2007) notes: “Golden Records represents the largest single series of children’s 78-rpm records ever produced. Over the years of production, just about every notable TV personality (fiction and real) was signed to perform on one or more Golden Records… In 1956, Simon and Schuster claimed half of all children’s record sales in the US.”

I called Peter Muldavin to gain his insights into Golden Records 33 1/3 rpm issues. He informed me that the records had more novelty than collector value. Golden issued a series of long play records in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I was not able to find a discography for the series. With a little patience, you should be able to obtain a copy of the period 33 1/3 album for between $10 and $15. In June 2013, an eBay seller sold a vinyl copy for $12.99 plus $4 shipping. Check eBay every few weeks. Another copy will appear eventually.

However, if you just want access to the music, Amazon.com has a 2001 CD from Image Entertainment listed for $16.95 plus shipping. The same item is available on eBay for less than $7. Verse Music Group acquired the Golden Records catalog in 2012 and is in the process of reissuing many of the records.

QUESTION: I have a 1966 metal Batman lunch box. What is its value?

– J, Janesville, Wis.

ANSWER: For the purpose of this answer, I am assuming you have a 1966 Batman and Robin metal lunch kit. A lunch kit consists of the lunch box and the thermos. In 1988, Scott Bruce authored “The Official Price Guide to Lunch Boxes,” published by House of Collectibles, in which he priced the lunch box and its accompanying thermos separately, changing forever how collectors viewed the lunch kit.

Aladdin issued its Hopalong Cassidy metal lunch kit in 1950. Taking advantage of the Hoppy TV craze, Aladdin sold 6000,000 lunch kits at $2.39 the first year. Aladdin’s 1952 Tom Corbin, Space Cadet lunch kit sold even better. These early lunch kits featured a decal on a square blue or red lunch box. In 1954, Aladdin retooled its lunch box lithography. The metal “character” lunch box and its thermos became a school standard. In 1962, Aladdin introduced stamped designs, giving their lunch boxes a 3D appearance.

The “Batman” television series starring Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson premiered on Jan. 12, 1966. Aladdin’s Batman and Robin metal lunch kit was one of the early licensed products.

Your Batman and Robin lunch kit has crossover value. The character lunch kit, Batman, and Batman television series collectors are the primary buyers. Having stated this, the character lunch box collecting craze ended at the beginning of the 20th century. Collectors for the 1966-1968 Batman television series have diminished. Old-time collectors already own a copy of the 1966 Aladdin metal lunch kit. The new buyer market is slim.

As a result, prices are all over the map (cliché definitely intended; I love them). Asking prices by eBay sellers ranged from $59.99 to $220. One seller has a Canadian version listed at $725. In 2013, a fair secondary market retail price for a 1966 Batman and Robin lunch kit in fine condition is between $150 and $200. Damaged examples are difficult to impossible to sell.

QUESTION: I met you years ago when you appeared at Cottage Crafters in Allentown, Pa. I was employed there. I appear to have a very rare old book in my possession. We have extensively searched everything and found nothing. The Hyperion Miniature, hardcover, first edition book measures 6 inches by 7 inches. The book’s 35 pages contain illustrations of the paintings of Van Gogh. The information on the title page reads: “Duenewald Printing Corp. / Copyright 1941 by The Hyperion Press of New York.” I would very much appreciate your opinion of what this treasure is worth.

— RH, Allentown, Pa.

ANSWER: When individuals tell me that they cannot find information about an object, my stock response is: “where did you look?” I had no problem finding information about your Van Gogh Hyperion Miniature on my two favorite antiquarian book websites: Abe Books and Alibris. Both sites contained multiple listings.

In the late 1940s, a series of Hyperion Miniature titles, usually 84 pages in length, was issued featuring the works of famous artists such as Bonnard, Botticelli, Breughel, Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso and Renoir. The books were distributed by Crown Publishers. Many were prepared by Andre Leclerc.

Several of the titles had earlier editions dating from the late 1930s and early 1940s. Your Van Gogh dates from 1941.

It is a major mistake to assume something is rare if you cannot locate information about it. Your 1941, Van Gogh Hyperion Miniature is not rare. A dealer on Alibris has a copy listed at $7.47 plus shipping. A seller on Abe Books lists a hardcover, “Book Condition: Good. Aged with some discoloration – paper over binding is split but inner binding is intact and tight. Unmarked.” for $5.60 plus $4.50 for shipping.

There are no rare $10 books. Rare, if used at all, is normally reserved for pieces selling in the tens and hundreds of thousands and millions.

Hyperion Miniatures were one of dozens of series of art portfolios and books issued in the 1940s and 1950s designed to enlighten the public and increase its artistic taste and sense of aesthetics. I owned my share of these, as well as purchased more than 100 prints of art masterpieces from the museums I visited. Today, these art portfolios, books and prints have little to no value. Further, their attempt to change the general public’s appreciation of great art met with only limited success.

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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