Coke jugs have Hollywood connection

Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?June 16, 2013 

The Oscar is the top prize in the motion picture industry. Two actors have won it three times. One is Jack Nicholson. Can you name the other? He has a direct connection to our part of the country, specifically northeastern Oregon.

In today's What's It Worth? we identify that actor and value collectible artifacts from the movie theater he owned in Joseph, Ore., 60 years ago.

We also answer another Oregon reader's question about her metal elephant bookends.

Q. My pair of metal elephant bookends are really old and I don't have a clue about them. They are 8 1/2 inches high from the bottom of the base to the top of the trunk and 51/2 inches long. What can you tell me? -- Joan in Hermiston

A. Although bookends can be traced back to the 1600s, very few were made before the 19th century. The first books were handmade, most were owned by the church and were study tools for monks. Ordinary people didn't own any.

There were so few books before the invention of moveable type there was no need for bookends, or even book shelves, for that matter. The few books that did exist were either chained to desks and podiums or just stacked one on top of the other on tables.

By the 1800s, books had become more common -- both in this country and in Europe -- and ownership of books was possible for the average family. More books meant storage was soon an issue, and bookcases became specialized furniture and weighty bookends were needed to keep volumes from falling over or falling off the shelves.

People buy bookends for their practical applications. Collectors buy them for other than purely practical reasons. Collectors tend to specialize; one might have a collection of bookends of ships or maritime activities, another may favor bears, Native American images, literary or historic figures or design styles such as Art Deco.

Elephants also are popular. This pair most likely is made of brass, and while Joan doesn't say so, it may be marked. Many times the mark is covered by the felt cloth on the bottom of each piece.

Bookends are widely collected and there are books on identification and valuation, as well as clubs for devotees.

These bookends could fetch as much as $100 to $150 in a shop or at an antiques show.

Q. We have three Coca-Cola glass syrup jugs, each with a different label. They all came from Walter Brennan's movie theatre in Joseph, Ore. Many thanks for your help in evaluating these. -- Claudette and Greg in Enterprise, Ore.

A. There is the answer to our movie actor trivia question. Walter Brennan, who won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor on three occasions.

Some time in the late 1940s, Brennan "discovered" the Wallowa Valley town of Joseph and fell in love with the area. He bought a large ranch and owned several businesses. One was the Rainbow Theater, on Joseph's Main Street.

The Rainbow, seating 500 people, was open from 1950 to about 1953. Brennan brought in fellow actors to celebrate special occasions, especially the annual Chief Joseph Days. For the July 27, 1950, grand opening, Brennan was on hand and starred in the featured film, Curtain Call at Cactus Creek.

A movie theater means concessions, and Coke always has been a staple. These jugs are quite collectible and -- even though the labels are different -- they each have the same value, $25 to $30 apiece. That all three have their screwtop caps adds to the value.

Some of Walter Brennan's relatives live in the Joseph area today. The Rainbow Theater is long gone, but another of his businesses flourishes.

The actor built the still-operating Indian Lodge Motel on the south end of Main Street. While it has been updated several times through the years, some of the units retain their original 1950s bathroom tiles.

-- 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

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