What's it worth? Common household items sometimes have historical value

TERRY MAURER, Special to the Tri-City HeraldAugust 12, 2012 

We all have pictures of some kind in our homes and we also have jars, bottles and storage containers. Not everyone has the things we investigate for readers in this edition of What's It Worth?

Q. These framed photos of great-grandmother and great-grandfather are from about 1915. Any information would be much appreciated; are they of any value? -- Kevin in Pendleton

A. Hand-colored photographs like these were produced all over the world in the years between the turn of the 20th century and the end of World War I. Most we see today are American; they were and are important documents of family history.

Before the development and popularity of photography in the middle of the 19th century, only the very wealthy could afford to have family pictures done. The options were paintings or cut paper silhouettes and both were produced by hand.

Photographs changed all that. A painted image that might have cost hundreds of dollars -- depending on the artist -- now could be had for just a few dollars.

By the time these pictures were taken, many families had cameras of their own and commercial photographers (who took these images) were in every town and city. A new word was coined -- "Kodakery" -- used to describe camera bugs and their hobby.

Most photographs of this era -- priceless to families for the historical record they provide -- are not very valuable. For each picture here, the value is increased some by the fact the children are charming. The little girl is in a oval "bubble glass" frame featuring convex glass and that also adds to the price.

Seen often at shows, in antique malls and shops, each would be priced in the $65 to $85 range, assuming excellent condition.

Q. My grandmother had these small bottles -- each is about 6 inches high-- for as long as I can remember. They seem pretty "fancy" to me but I don't remember if there was ever anything in them. Are they unusual and is there any value? -- Sharon in Kennewick

A. These are small domestic examples of apothecary bottles. Apothecary -- the old equivalent of our modern-day drugstore or pharmacy -- dates back almost 40 centuries, to ancient Babylonia.

The apothecarist used jars and bottles to store mixed medicinal compounds and raw ingredients. Sizes varied from very small to pieces more than 3 feet high. Most are larger than the pair shown here. In the earliest days, many were made of ceramic, including examples of blue and white Delft-type porcelain.

The average jar or bottle (the terms are interchangeable) seen by collectors today looks similar to these, with a reverse-painted glass label applied to the front. The bottles were manufactured in quantity and the labels applied in separate operation.

Labels identified the contents; many are in Latin with some English also seen, with such words and abbreviations as "Ac. Sulp. D.," "R. Valerian" and "Ol. Gossyp. Sem." They can certainly be confusing and refer to ingredients and compounds seldom used today. We have even seen a label with "Cannabis S." on it.

These bottles are a bit different, in that they identify common household products. Green soap was a soft soap made from vegetable oils with either sodium or potassium hydroxide added.

Green soap actually can be any color, depending on the oils added to the mix. In the Victorian era, green soap was combined with soda for washing dishes in the kitchen.

Listerine is an American commercial product that dates to 1879. Today an antiseptic mouthwash, it was originally sold as a floor cleaning product. For a short time in 1927, Listerine cigarettes also were available.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, Listerine's makers advertised it would prevent and cure colds and sore throats. The Federal Trade Commission eventually ruled those claims were misleading and untrue. Today, Listerine markets a mouthwash and toothpaste.

Each bottle is marked for the Whitall Tatum Company of Millville, N.J. The mark used dates them between 1900 and 1920.

While quite collectible, neither of these bottles is worth a great deal of money. Prices at auction range from $5 to $25 each. The domestic labels put them near the higher end of that range.

* Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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