'Hitched' belt most likely made in prison

TERRY MAURER, WHAT'S IT WORTHDecember 2, 2012 

Prison-made items have been widely collected for years. Here in the West, most are related to cowboy and horse gear -- reins, hatbands, belts and the like. In today's What's It Worth? we examine a reader's belt made with a now almost-forgotten technique. And we'll value a great-looking table radio.

Q. My father gave me this woven belt back in the mid 1960s. The story was that his stepfather received it as part of payment for a painting job. He painted in the Wyo-ming and Colorado areas. The family story always has been that it was made by a prisoner, but I have no idea what prison it could be from. Can you help with identification and possibly a value? -- Kathy in Richland

A. This appears to be a handwoven horsehair belt made using the "hitched" technique. Hitching with horsehair involves making stitches similar to half-hitch knots in a concentric arrangement on a wooden dowel. It is a very complicated, slow process and it takes a very long time to become proficient at it.

Hitching and making items for sale was perfect for a prisoner with lots of time and little else to do. Objects such as this belt are intertwined with the modern and territorial histories of many prisons in the western United States.

It is thought the first hitched pieces were produced at the Deer Lodge Penitentiary before Montana became a state in 1889. Other prisons where inmates are known to have produced belts and horse gear include those in Walla Walla, Yuma, Ariz., and Rawlins, Wyo.

There are experts who can identify which prisons produced which styles and patterns. Lacking their background and research, we only can say your belt quite likely was made by a prisoner somewhere in a western state.

The art of hitching seems to have departed the prisons. In recent years, companies in Colorado and New Mexico have begun making and selling hitched items. A modern belt from one of those firms will set you back $400.

This belt has an interesting inlayed buckle, which may be sterling silver. The stones look to be turquoise. The buckle should be examined by a jeweler to establish its individual value.

Assuming we are correct in identifying this as a prison-made item, the value of the belt alone is in the $600 to $800 range, if condition is fine.

Q. What can you tell us about our old table radio? It has a clock feature and measures 11 inches wide. -- John in Kennewick

A. Your radio is a product of the Trav-Ler Karelona Radio and Television Corporation of Chicago and was made in the early 1950s. The company started business in 1921 -- at the beginning of the modern radio era -- and made table radios.

Later, Trav-ler Radio produced record players and, starting in 1951, TV sets. They went out of business in 1965. Along the way they made more than 400 models of various products, including pocket transistor radios in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

This small Trav-Ler Tube Model 5170 tabletop radio came in a solid wood cabinet and has what collectors would certainly call a Mid-Century Modern design. It features an alarm set, sleep switch and auto on-off switch. Pretty fancy for a 1950s radio.

Featuring Bakelite knobs, this model was available in the light color of this radio and a darker, mahogany veneer. At first glance, you might think a glass cover is missing from the right hand radio tuner side. Actually, there never was a glass; the speaker is directly behind that dial and the sound comes through the small grill perforations.

Assuming the radio and clock are in excellent operating condition, with all features functioning, the retail value is in the $40 to $75 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 e-mail tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com

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