Timepiece's value is in its unique ceramic case

BY TERRY MAURER, WHAT'S IT WORTHApril 7, 2013 

Tick, tock, tick, tock. The clock is an object found in almost every American household.

Whether analog or digital, they all serve the useful purpose of keeping us on time -- or letting us know how late we are.

In this edition of What's It Worth, we'll look at a very nice, older American clock with an unusual case.

Q. What can you tell us about our clock? It is marked on the dial "Ansonia" and the case is ceramic. -- Sharon and Terry in Mabton

A. From a famous American company, this mantel or shelf clock was manufactured between 1880 and 1920.

Ansonia, founded in 1850 in Connecticut, had moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., by 1878. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Ansonia was so successful that they had sales representatives in China, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and dozens of other countries.

By the end of World War I, the quality of Ansonia's clocks dropped, sales slumped dramatically and, in 1929, all production stopped.

Porcelain clocks with cases of glazed ceramic were a specialty with Ansonia. There were dozens, if not as many as a hundred, different models.

Most of the differences were in the handpainted cases, many made for Ansonia by the Royal Bonn factory in Germany. Almost all of the movements were exactly the same as this one.

The clock itself runs for eight days on a single winding, and its "Cathedral Gong" movement strikes the hours and quarter hours.

The porcelain case of this clock, about 11 inches high, is the "Wisdom" model in a ruby color. Wisdom also was available in cobalt blue and green.

Ansonia wasn't the only American company to market porcelain case clocks. You can find them by Waterbury, New Haven and others. But Ansonia made the most.

Market value is strong and there is an active collector community looking for these clocks. I have seen this model, in ruby color, offered for as much as $1,200. I also have seen it sell at auction for as little as $200. A realistic retail price -- at a shop or at an antiques show -- is between $800 and $1,000.

Q. This is a child's crib toy and I believe it is made of Bakelite. Do you know for certain and can you give me a value? -- Pam in Pasco

A. Yes, indeed, this early 20th century child's toy is made of Bakelite.

The earliest synthetic plastic, Bakelite was developed by Leo Baekeland in 1907. He did his work in New York.

Important in the early electrical industry, Bakelite was heat resistant and nonconductive. It was used in insulators and as the cabinet material for telephones and radios.

Bakelite's inventor called it "the material of 1,000 uses." It was formed into jewelry, pipe stems, letter openers, cigarette holders, kitchen wares and children's toys. It also can be found in saxophone and telephone mouthpieces, whistles, pistol grips, appliance cases and it even was used in early machine guns! All of these examples are very collectible.

Jewelry and children's toys are the most common Bakelite found today. Some pieces of Bakelite jewelry have sold at auction for more than $1,000.

Toys and infant items also are collectible, such as this little black and orange toy meant to hang above a crib or on a crib rail, as well as model boats, dominos and rattles. It also was made into little pianos, windup toys such as ducklings and chicks, and pull toys.

In today's market, this crib toy -- about 6 inches long -- could be expected to sell for as much as $100.

However, there is a part missing, lowering the toy's value. The small ring that represents the right knee has gone astray and the loss drops the price to about $50.

* 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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