May 24, 2018
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Age does not enhance value for ‘fantasy’ pieces | BDN | BDN
The boxed set of toy soldiers by Britains brought $5,860 when Old Toy Soldier Auctions sold off collections last summer.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: I have this scrimshaw piece. Can you tell me something about it?

A: Clearly, our reader has done some Internet research, as a URL sent with the inquiry led us to a vendor.

The site, in Italian, offers a walking stick with what looks like an etched knob at the top. One side bears the image of English hero Horatio Nelson. Another has a rendering of his ship, the H.M.S. Victory, and “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” French for “shame to him who thinks evil of it,” the theme for Knights of the Garter, among others.

But there’s more: The motto of the English monarch, “Dieu et mon droit” (God and my right) also appears. Neither motto makes sense on a stick devoted to Nelson, but they do seem classy if overwrought.

The material used is meant to resemble bone or scrimshaw. And at the base of the knob is a marked brass oval identifying the piece as a walking stick handcrafted in England by Cooper and Sons LTD.

Now, we did not see that stamping affixed to the reader’s stick. But once spotted on the Web, the insignia should have started him wondering.

Digging revealed that Cooper has made walking sticks since the 1850s. Known for quality handmade sticks, Cooper products now encompass several lines of fashionable sticks. In this country, they’re carried by quite a few online merchants, including medical goods retailers.

Serious collectors draw a line between canes and walking sticks. Purists never use the terms interchangeably; canes are for orthopedic use and walking sticks are accessories.

This stick head is not scrimshaw. It’s what collectors call “fakeshaw.”

We found new versions of the Nelson stick online, where it’s described as a molded resin head on a polished black hardwood shaft. The reader has an older version with a different shaft. It was made as a fantasy piece, and age does not enhance value.

Retail prices for this and similar new Cooper resin-head sticks run $90-$125.

Q: I’ve tried to research value on my two items for information and value to no avail. Can you help?

A: I think I know why you had a problem finding value; you were looking in the wrong places.

The brooches seen in images sent are Russian in origin. They are vintage, not antique, and date from around the 1980s-’90s.

The Russian lacquer oval painted with bright florals is a type that sells for under $25 on the secondary market. The metal single rose floral brooch produced for export might bring more, as it has a display card written in English that refers to the piece as work by a Moscow artist.

BOOK IT! “Industrial Chic” by Brigitte Durieux and Laziz Hamani (Abrams, $45) highlights 50 trendsetters in the hot design genre.

Factory, lab, medical, utilitarian furniture and lighting have new life as younger generations latch on to the look. As a result, interesting pieces from the early 1900s through recent decades have new status as decor. Already, updated versions of the circa 1893 Holophane hanging lamp hang in pricey kitchens. Add the circa 1927 Roneo side table with austere lines and tilting drafting tables from the 1930s with iron bases, plus the classic Jacobsen Luxo lamp. They’re all here.

Auction Action: Most boys at some point have collections of toy soldiers. But when today’s collectors buy, they go for pristine unplayed with figures in as-new condition.

As example, a Britains display set No. 1905, titled “Officers and Men of the U.S. Army Air Corps,” made in 1940/41 brought $5,860 in a recent sale by Old Toy Soldier Auctions because all 16 uniformed figures were still tied in place in their original box. Not only was the set one that’s prized by collectors, but it also was produced by a leading maker of military figures. So untouched that the figures had never been removed from the original packaging, the set was made during war years when few metal toys were produced for children. The set was rare then and is even rarer today.

Collector Quiz

Q: Children’s clothing of the Victorian era had its own set of rules. Can you match the age when specific garments were considered proper?

1. Six months a. corset introduced

2. Seven years b. adult corset with stays

3. Five years c. full-length hose a must

4. Four years d. short white cotton dresses

5. Twelve years e. addition of adult styles

A: Answers are 1-d, 2-e, 3-c, 4-a, 5-b. Source: “Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society’s Impact on Dress” by Linda Setnik (Schiffer, $29.99). With period photos and interesting text.

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 or writeDanielle 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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