Q & A with Harry Rinker: Shackman & Co. Sleep Baby, Eskimo Ivory Billikens

QUESTION: I found a doll in its period box in my aunt’s room. The top of the lid reads: “SLEEP BABY / A new concept in dolls / a real cuddly sleep head for the first time. / A delight to play with. / Copyright Shackman 1957.” The side of the box includes this information: “Shackman / 2 W. 31st Street, / Ny, NY / Made in Japan / Sleep Baby Blue #3546 / New Concept in Dolls.” The box and doll are in very fine condition. Is this worth anything?

– EW, Reading, Pa., via e-mail

ANSWER: Bertha Shackman, an early American female business pioneer, founded B. Shackman & Co. in 1898. The company wholesaled inexpensive cards, novelties and toys to five-and-dime stores, catalog merchandisers and small businesses—such as drug stores—that devoted a small merchandising area to toys. Located initially on Broadway Avenue, Shackman moved its headquarters to Madison Avenue and finally 31st Street and Fifth Avenue. Bertha Shackman attributed the success of her company to innovation, quality, and service. Dan Shackman assumed control of the business in 1935 and continued to head the company until he sold it to the employees in 1985.

B. Schackman Company’s website lists items for sale with Advent, Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Valentine themes. Other product lines include: assortments, books, cards, containers, décor & garlands, figurines, gift tags, masks, nodders, novelties, ornaments, paper dolls, scraps, stickers and stationery. Given the wide variety of Shackman products, many can apply to multiple collecting categories.

Shackman products often closely resemble those of major manufacturers. Although Shackman carefully avoids copyright infringement, the similarities are noticeable.

The Sleep Baby was available in at least three colors—blue, pink and red. An eBay seller has a red example in its period box, both in excellent condition, listed at a “Buy It Now” price of $38.99 plus $5.95 for shipping and handling. Another eBay seller has an example of a blue body doll listed at $34.95. A third eBay seller is asking $29.99 plus $3.77 shipping and handling for a pink example with its period box. The doll without its box usually is listed on eBay for around $15. In contrast, an Esty seller is offering an example without the box for $45. All the dolls I found appear to have little to no play, perhaps a reflection of the disappointment of young ladies who hoped their parents would buy them a brand name doll.

The prices reflect the role played by the box in toy value. The box graphics are period. They speak late 1950s. Assuming the doll and its box to be worth $30, $20 or more of this value is the box.

All the prices quoted above are for dolls that have not sold through. “Buy It Now” prices are merely asking prices. Buyers expect to negotiate, just as they would if they found the doll for sale at a flea market or antiques mall, shop or show.

QUESTION: My deceased brother was in the military in the 1960s. While serving in Alaska, he purchased two ivory Billikens. The first is 1 7/8 inches high, the second 2 inches high. The label reads “Genuine Ivory Eskimo made.” Are they of any value?

– RG, Janesville, Wis., via e-mail

ANSWER: Florentz Pretz, a St. Louis art teacher and illustrator, obtained a 1908 design patent on an elf-like figure with pointed ears which she reportedly saw in a dream. A Billiken has a wide, mischievous grin and a small tuft of hair on his pointed head. He usually is encountered in a seated position with his legs stretched out in front of him.

The Billiken quickly became a good luck symbol. However, to achieve maximum luck, the Billiken had to be given to person rather than being purchased by the person. The Billiken also symbolized an “I am not worried” attitude. Spinoffs included a Billycan and Billycant pair. Doll manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon.

Saint Louis University adopted the Billiken as its mascot as did The Royal Order of Jesters, a Shriner group. The Billiken premiered in Japan in 1908, appearing in the upper most level of the Tustenkaku Tower. The first Alaskan Billikens appeared in souvenir shops in 1909. Angokwazhuk, a None Eskimo carver, is created with carving the earliest examples. Other Eskimos copied Angokwazhuk’s work. Songs from the era included the “Billiken Man Song” and “Billiken Rag.”

Like many fads, interest in Billikens waned in a few years. However, it never completely disappeared from the scene. The Billiken made several cameo appearances in the movie “Waterloo Bridge,” starring Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh.

By the 1960s, Billikens carved from Alaskan animal ivory were popular jewelry and knickknack items in souvenir shops in Anchorage and other tourist destinations. Examples often were sold with a sheet explaining the Billiken’s origin. Anchorage featured a Billiken Drive-In movie theater.

There are no restrictions on the sale or possession of Alaskan ivory. Hence, Alaskan ivory material can trade freely in the antiques and collectibles secondary market. As noted above, 1960s Alaskan Billiken carvings were very popular. As a result, they are a glut on the secondary market. Lower quality examples sell between $10 and $15, middle quality examples between $25 and $40, while high quality pieces over $50. The photograph of the Billiken figures that accompanied your email suggests they are lower to middle quality pieces. Think $15 each.

QUESTION: I own a light blue polar bear figurine that is marked “Randsfjord Glassverk.” It is 4 ½ inches long and 3 inches high. What is its value?

– J, Bethlehem, Pa.

ANSWER: In 1948, Lave Kløver, Erik Rodi Nitschke, and Vainö Savolainen founded Teknisk glass AS in Jevnaker, Oppland County, Norway. Ivar Gunderson and Fritjof Nitschke, previously employed by the Hadeland Glassverk, were the principal glassworkers. Initially, the company made glass insulators. Within a year, the focus shifted to everyday glassware. The name of the company was changed to Randsfjord Glassverk AS. Engravers and cutters were employed.

The company struggled to survive. Hand-painted seconds were sold in a company outlet store. “Spesialkyrstall,” a blue shimmered glass created by adding 0.6 grams of cobalt to 150 kilo melt, was created in 1953/54. Special premium/giveaway items kept the company alive during the 1970s.

In 1967, Benny Motzfeldt began designing glass for Randsfjord. Work by other designers soon followed. By the 1980s, the company was once again surviving through the production of premium items. Although the company was revived briefly after a 1990 bankruptcy, Hadeland Glassverk bought the company and moved production to its plant.

WorthPoint contains a listing for a Randsfjord clear glass polar bear selling on eBay.co.uk on Nov. 5, 2011 for $16.01. EBay contains more than a dozen pieces. Mass production household glass and decorative accessories sell in the $6 to $15 range. The eBay listings contained several examples of Benny Motzfeldt designer pieces. Based on the appearance of the Motzfeldt designed pieces, it is safe to assume that the polar bear is a non-designer, mass production piece. The light blue color adds a slight premium. Your Randsfjord polar bear is worth between $20 and $25.

QUESTION: I recently acquired a Chinaman laundry sprinkler for $25. His white shirt reads: “SPRINKLE / PLEASE. The item appears to date from the late 1940s or early 1950s. Laundry sprinklers make a great collection. Why do they receive so little attention in the trade?

– IA, Toronto, Canada, via e-mail

ANSWER: This is yet another question that rekindles childhood memories. My mother ironed shirts and blouses, handkerchiefs, underwear, sheets and pillow cases, and tablecloths and napkins, just to name a few items. My dad pressed pants. A soda bottle with an inserted sprinkle cap with a cork covered metal funnel sat on the wide end of the ironing board. My mother spent 10 to 15 minutes sprinkling clothes prior to ironing them. When mother was serious, she sprinkled the items the day before, placed them in a plastic bag and allowed them to moisten overnight. The advent of the steam iron ended the need to sprinkle textiles before ironing them.

Sprinkler bottles as a sub-collecting category of kitchen collectibles enjoyed a collecting craze in the 1990s. Several kitchen collectibles reference books included sections on sprinkler bottles. There are hundreds of variations.

A series of eBay searches—clothes sprinkler, ironing sprinkler, laundry sprinkler, and sprinkling bottle—resulted in listings for over 40 different bottles. Asking prices ranged from $9.99 to more than $100. Most of the prices appealed to the crossover buyer rather than the sprinkling bottle collector.

As the years progress, the number of individuals who can identify the use of a sprinkling bottle declines. By 2050, all memory will vanish. While I am not ready to add sprinkling bottles to my list of endangered collecting categories, it is certainly a category I am watching.

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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