Condition key when collecting common items


Common items -- such as books -- sometimes can have uncommon values. Most, however, fall into the "interesting, but not worth much" category.

In today's What's It Worth? let's look into a pair of history books for a reader. One of them is about the very earliest days of the Oregon Territory.

Q. We have inherited a large number of books, many of them histories, like the two I'm writing you about. Jason Lee Prophet of the New Oregon is dated 1935. The other was published in 1885 -- A Brief History of the United States. Are these two worth much of anything? Will collectors be interested? -- Bill in Finley

A. Before we value them, let's note a bit of general background that affects these history books.

Broad general histories -- like the 1885 book, which was part of a series put out by the S. A. Barnes Company -- are of little interest and don't command very much money.

Books on specific areas of the country and particular individuals -- such as this Jason Lee title -- may have special appeal to regional collectors. They can have good value.

Barnes' U.S. history first was published in 1871. You have the 1885 third edition. It isn't in very good condition. The spine is loose and has a large tear at the bottom.

This is a quite common book. Most collectors would consider it at about the same value level as a school book from the same era and would have no interest. The best thing about it are the color plate pages, which include maps of the 13 colonies and America at the time of the War of 1812.

Those illustrations probably are worth more than the book itself. In this condition, the value is $5 to $10, if any buyer can be found.

The Jason Lee book might be something a collector of Northwest history will want. It is the story of pioneering Methodist missionary Lee, who came to the Oregon Country in 1834, a full two years before Marcus Whitman established his mission near present-day Walla Walla.

Prophet of the New Oregon was written by a professor at the University of Idaho and that fact may add interest to the right collector.

This book was issued with a dust jacket and it is missing. Dust jackets can add 50 percent to 200 percent to the value of a book.

The volume is in good condition but has small value. Although we have seen it offered for as much as $125, a good copy like this can be had for $10 to $25.

Q. We picked up this little thermometer/humidity meter at a garage sale, then noticed the case may be celluloid. Is it collectible? -- Janice in Pasco

A. This small piece -- it measures 31/4 inches square -- was made by a historical American company.

George Taylor started his firm during America's second Industrial Revolution in 1851, a period of transitional years between 1840 and 1870, when technological and economic progress gained momentum with the increasing adoption of steam-powered ships and railways.

Those new modes of transportation needed accurate instruments and Taylor's company was there to fill the need. They made thermometers, humidity gauges for air and gases, as well as instruments for measuring conditions in controlled environments.

Critical as an instrument manufacturer during World War I and World War II, the firm had a key role in designing and making ultra-secret pressure instruments for the Manhattan Project.

The company still is in business as Taylor Precision Products of Illinois.

This little measuring device is for home or office use and likely dates to the 1950s. The case is, indeed, made of celluloid and is in very good condition. From the photos, it looks as if the glass dial cover is missing.

Market value is not high -- a fair price would be $10 to $20.

* 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 to

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