Q & A with Harry Rinker: Polar King Icebox, Howdy Doody Figurines, Sears Catalog

An example of a 1920s Leonard’s Polar King icebox that sold on eBay in 2007 for $450.

The interior of 1920s Leonard’s Polar King icebox.

QUESTION: I own a Leonard’s Polar King icebox, probably made in the 1920s or 1930s. The outside and inside are in good shape. A label on the icebox reads: “LEONARD’S POLAR KING / trademark U. S. Patent Office / Grand Rapids, Michigan. Does it have value?

– JA, via e-mail

ANSWER: When Linda and I moved to Kentwood (just south of Grand Rapids), I was thrilled to live in the area of western Michigan once billed as America’s Furniture Capitol. Although several key furniture manufacturers such as American Seating, Herman Miller, and Steelcase still have headquarters and manufacturing plants in the greater Grand Rapids area, most furniture manufacturers have long ceased operations. The Widdicomb Furniture Company’s main plant has been converted into condos.

The Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Historical Society are reputed to have large furniture catalog and other documentary holdings related to the furniture industry. Two and one half years later, I still have not taken time to delve into the material. I need to correct this.

The following information is condensed from Christian G. Carron’s “Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City” (Grand Rapids Public Museum, 1998) and the obituary for Charles Heman Leonard that appeared in The Grand Rapids Herald on Wednesday, March 23, 1927.

The Leonard’s Polar King icebox label.

Brothers Charles, Frank, and Fred H. Leonard, sons of Herman and Jane Goodrich Leonard, founded the Grand Rapids Refrigerator Company in 1883. Charles served as president, Frank as vice-president, and Fred H. as secretary-treasurer. In addition to the manufacture of refrigerators (iceboxes), the company made catalog cabinets, folding boot racks, shaving cabinets and shoe wardrobes.

Prior to founding the Grand Rapids Refrigerator Company, the brothers were involved in the family grocery business, which eventually became H. Leonard & Sons. Charles’ interest in iceboxes resulted from his wife Emma Jane Carr Leonard’s complaint that an icebox she had purchased was difficult to clean. Charles developed an icebox that was easy to clean and saved ice. In 1880, Charles secured a patent for a dry air, self-circulating interior ventilation system for iceboxes. Charles continued to upgrade the company’s iceboxes. In addition to the Polar King model, the company also made the “Challenge,” “Leonard Cleanable” and “Northern Light.”

In 1914, Grand Rapids Refrigerator entered into an agreement with Kelvinator and introduced a line of electric refrigerators. Grand Rapids Refrigerator merged with Kelvinator in 1926, phasing out icebox production in the decade that followed.

WorthPoint has a listing for a 1920s Leonard’s Polar King icebox that sold on eBay in 2007. The picture shows an ice box with a single vertical door on the right and two doors (one two-thirds the height above a second that is one-third the height) on the left. The final selling price was $450.

Iceboxes reached their price pinnacle in the late 1990s. The market has declined steadily since. Although there are dealers still asking $750 and more, there are plenty of examples similar to your Polar King for sale around $250.

Do not expect an icebox revival any time soon. Even though I am predicting a revival of the 19th century, rural, semi-primitive Country Look in the five years leading up to America’s 250th birthday celebration in 2026, I do not envision iceboxes benefiting from it. Like so many antiques and collectibles, the generations who remember them are dead, dying or losing their memory.

Howdy Doody figurines similar to the ones Harry’s reader asks about.

QUESTION: I have five 1950s miniature Howdy Doody figurines—Clarabelle, Dilly Dally, Howdy Doody, Princess Winterspringsummerfall (sic.) and Phineas T. Buster. Each figurine is approximately four inches high and in very good condition. I would like to sell them. What can I expect?

– A. & J. K., Hutchinson, Kan., via e-mail

ANSWER: The Howdy Doody Show, a children’s television program created and produced by E. Roger Muir, premiered on NBC on Dec. 27, 1947. The show had a circus/western theme. It was produced in Studio 3A in Rockefeller Center in New York. The last episode aired on Sept. 24, 1960.

“Buffalo” Bob Smith created Howdy Doody for his radio show on WNBC (AM). Smith’s appearance on NBC’s “Puppet Playhouse” in December 1947 led to the creation of a Howdy Dowdy puppet, designed and made by Frank Paris. A rights disagreement between Smith, who retained all rights to the character, and Paris led to the creation of a second Howdy Doody puppet by Velma Dawson. Additional puppet characters joined the show—Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Inspector John J. Fadoozle, Sandra the Witch, Capt. Windy Scuttlebut, and Flub-a-Dub. Live characters included Clarabelle the Clown (who was mute until the final show), Cornelius J. Cobb, Chief Thunderthud, and Princess Summerfall Winterspring. All live in the fictional town of Doodyville.

TRIVIA QUIZ: Clarabelle was played by three different individuals. Who was the first Clarabelle and who did he eventually become at NBC rival CBS?

A 1955 Howdy Doody merchandizing catalog contained 24 pages of licensed products. I ate dozens of jars of Welch’s Grape Jelly in an effort to acquire a full set of Howdy Doody advertising drinking glasses (the jar). A Howdy Doody comic book, published by Dell from 1950 to 1956, and a United Features Syndicate Howdy Doody comic strip (Oct.15, 1950 to June 21, 1965) helped promote the brand.

If a person was age 10 on Sept. 24, 1960, he/she would now be 52. This means anyone under 50 has only read about Howdy Doody or saw television in reruns, DVD or YouTube. Howdy Doody memorabilia reached its price peak in the mid-1990s with the publication of Jack Koch’s “Howdy Doody: Collectors Reference and Trivia Guide, Identification & Values” (Collector Books, 1995). The values in the book were inflated at the time. Cut the values by 75% to obtain realistic values for the 2010s secondary market.

Gasoline Alley Antiques is an excellent source for “retail” pricing data for antique toys and television memorabilia. The “Howdy Doody Collectibles” page contains listings for four of the five figures that you own. The hard plastic figures are approximately 3 ¾-inches tall and have moveable mouths, operated by a lever in the back of the head. The figures are hand-painted on flesh tone plastic. In very good plus to excellent condition, Howdy Doody and Clarabelle are listed at $25 each and Dilly Dally and Phineas T. Bluster at $20 each. These are retail list prices, subject to some negotiation.

A dealer offer of $50 for the set is fair, although I suspect you will be unhappy with it. Dealers have to buy at a cost that allows a profit. You will not do better trying to sell them at auction or a toy show. Try Craigslist by asking for a best offer above $50 for the set. EBay is a possibility. If you list the figurines for sale, offer them as a group, use an opening bid of 99¢, and let the market determine the price.

QUESTION: I have two Sears catalogs: (1) a Fall 1900 edition in excellent condition; and (2) a 1902 edition in good condition since the cover page is loose. Do they have any value?

– J.S., Joliet, Ill.

ANSWER: If the catalogs were period, they would have a strong secondary market value. Unfortunately, both are reproductions. The information on the photocopies of the covers that accompanied your letter provided the clues.

The cover of the “Sears, Roebuck & Co….Consumers Guide Fall 1900” has a notation on the bottom: “Edited by Joseph J. Schroeder, Jr.” The Schroeder family owned Collector Books, a major publisher of antiques and collectibles reference and price guides until its recent demise. The reprint date most likely dates from the 1970s or 1980s. The date should be on the back of the cover or the front or back of the title page. The reprint sells for $3 to $5 dollars.

The cover of the “1902 Edition of the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue” reprint notes: “Introduction by Cleveland Amory.” Since Cleveland Amory, an American author, was not born until Sept. 2, 1917, it is impossible for him to have written his introduction in 1902. This reproduction catalog was first issued in 1969. In very good condition, it retails on the secondary market between $25 and $35. Given the poor condition of your copy, a value between $3 and $5 is reasonable.

QUESTION: I have a Fenton, hobnail, white milk glass punch bowl and cup set. What is its value?

– D.. State College, Pa.

ANSWER: Fenton began producing white milk glass hobnail in the 1950s. Initially, the milk glass had a “fiery,” translucent look when held to the light. Fenton changed its milk glass formula in 1958. This later glass is more opaque, designed to complete with similar pieces being produced by rivals Imperial and Westmoreland.

A Fenton, hobnail, white milk glass punch bowl and cup set.

Fenton produced dozens of forms in hobnail white milk glass—baskets, compotes, dinnerware, epergnes and vases. The white milk glass craze ended in the 1960s. A collector craze developed in the early 1990s, eventually collapsing because of the flooding of pieces onto eBay.

An eBay seller currently is offering a Fenton hobnail octagonal 12-cup set with a “Buy It Now” price of $139.50 plus shipping and handling. There appear to be two punch cup shapes. Individual punch cups have asking prices ranging from $15 to $25. Another eBay seller is offering a Fenton Hobnail #3712 punch bowl with 11 cups for a “Buy It Now” price of $174.99 plus shipping and handling.

Although a secondary market value for your set between $125 and $140 seems reasonable, based on the above asking prices, my advice is to think conservatively—$75 to $90. As noted earlier, the 1950s/1960s white milk glass market is flat. Price recovery, if it happens, will not occur for a decade or longer.

TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: Bob Keeshan, who eventually became Captain Kangeroo, was the first Clarabelle.

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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