June 23, 2018
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Start the new year with a toast to toasters

Courtesy of Erick A. Murre
Courtesy of Erick A. Murre
The “Old English” Universal brand toaster from 1929 is by Landers, Frary and Clark of New Britain, Conn. Note the 100 percent intact and mint condition.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: This toaster has been in the family for several generations. It’s a Universal model, still functional, with original cloth-covered cord. Do you know anyone interested in buying it?

A: We’ve said it here before: We do not broker sales. This column is all about showing readers how to be smart collectors, including buying and selling. After we tell this reader about her toaster, she will be well equipped to sell smart.

Readers may be surprised to learn that the first electric toaster dates to 1909 and was a General Electric model. So with this item, “old” is fairly old.

Old and vintage electric toasters are popular with people who like kitchen collectibles, mechanical gadgets and attractive design. The best incorporate all those attributes.

Toasters are evaluated by type. There are perchers, pinchers, tippers, droppers, pop-ups, floppers and more. All are known by how they operate and the char pattern on the toasted slice.

The reader’s chrome-plated toaster with pierced doors is a flip-side or flopper model, developed in the 1920s. Doors on each side lean together at the tapered top, giving the machine an A shape. As the user opens a door, the toast flops onto the open door. More sophisticated versions turned the toast over automatically.

A-frame toasters dating from about 1919 to 1929 are an attractive curiosity today. Relatively plentiful in working condition, they’re commonly seen at flea markets. Universal was a common brand. Call it the Ford of the industry.

There is a collector group for toaster fans. Key toastercollectors.org for the Toaster Collectors Associationsite.

Eric Murrell, editor of the group newsletter, “The Saturday Evening Toast,” identified the reader’s toaster from a photo sent. It’s the Universal “Old English” model from 1929-30. With white feet, knobs and handles, the appliance is chrome plated and has fancy “engraving” on the top and doors.

According to Murrell, the model is a flopper because the doors are not spring loaded; the user pulled down each door to flip the bread over.

“The important thing about this toaster is that it is an elegant design,” he said. “If in good condition, it would be hard for a collector to pass up.”

And there’s the rub. We see a machine with significant corrosion. Plus, a handle seems to be missing.

“Corrosion is a real value killer for vintage appliances,” added Murrell.

Here’s how much of a killer poor condition is: In mint (shiny and complete) condition, Murrell thinks the toaster could sell for $75-$125, perhaps more in major urban centers.

“Even a little corrosion drops value to $15-$65, depending on how much there is,” he told us. A missing handle, foot or knob slashes value to under $25.

Keying Universal toasters on eBay, we found 52 listed at prices ranging from $8.50 to $20. A mint condition one similar to the reader’s brought $67.

Now our reader knows that her toaster is collected, that condition is critical, and that online auction is where many sell.

I suggest investing in a can of chrome cleaner to make the surface as pristine as you can. Search online postings for similar vintage toasters and study how the competition is presented. Note pricing. Then post it at a price you can live with and go for it.

FYI: “Toasters 1909-1960” by E. Townsend Artman (Schiffer,$29.95) shows many collectible toasters, including Universal. Helen Greguire’s “Collector’s Guide to Toasters and Accessories” is available on amazon.com.

Q: I was given this oil painting years ago by someone who got it in settlement of a bad debt. The artist, H.A. Granbery, was a woman. How do I find out if my painting has value?

A: Photos show a lovely framed painting of roses in a glass vase. Both artistry and composition are top grade. The painting looks in excellent condition.

To research a sales record on artists, it pays to invest in short-term use of an art price database. There, you see art by the creator, as well as info about the auction house where it sold. That’s valuable contact info.

Following that advice, we keyed artfact.com and found two paintings by landscape painter Henrietta Augusta Granbery (1829-1927). Professional women painters were so rare in those days that many, including Granbery, used only initials because of bias against female artists.

A landscape painter, she often painted roses. Two were on the database. One did not sell. Another, estimated at $800-$1,200, brought $1,200 in a California auction in April, 2011. I’d say that’s good news.

Collector quiz

Q: What were “Sweetheart” and “Mother” pillows? What kind is the rarest?

A: A type of military collectible common from 1917-45, they were pillows usually made with silk and, in WWII, rayon covers. Often the edges were fringed. Hand-painted or embroidered with patriotic images, the pillows are avidly collected today. Rarest is a wool version from WWI. Source: “Sweetheart and Mother Pillows 1917-1945,” by Patricia Cummings (Schiffer, $24.99).

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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