Kewpie candy dish a hit with collectors

July 14, 2013 

Q. This little glass Kewpie bank has been in the family forever. It has marks on the bottom, including a serial number of 2882. It is about 3 inches tall and in very good condition. What can you tell me about it? — Mary in Richland

A. What serves today as a small coin bank started life as a container for candy.

Small figural glass candy containers are an American invention, introduced in 1876. The first designs were patriotic — including a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell — and made in time for America’s centennial celebration.

Very popular and inexpensive, the containers soon included figural household appliances, animals, vehicles, comic characters and dolls. Like this Kewpie standing by a barrel.

Most earlier containers were “cold painted,” which means the paint was applied to the glass surface and not fired on for permanence. This example is from before 1920 and was painted. Inevitably, all the paint flakes off, as it has here.

The main center of candy container production was in the western part of Pennsylvania. Major American glass companies like L. E. Smith and Westmoreland Glass made them, as did the George Borgfeldt Company, which made and sold this Kewpie.

This container’s base is marked Borgfeldt and has a serial number. Those marks are important, as there are many reproductions, but new Kewpie containers aren’t marked.

Borgfeldt, although it made only a few candy container designs, was a leader in the field of character toys. They were the first to hold exclusive licensing rights for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Felix the Cat and Barney Google, among other early cartoon characters.

Candy containers — which went out of vogue in the 1950s — have values of anywhere from $20 to $1,200, depending on the design.

This Kewpie version — with its metal bank lid adding additional value — is regularly seen priced in the $80 to $125 range.

Q. My in-laws purchased this settee at an estate sale in Walla Walla in the 1950s. The overall length is just over 5 feet. We were told it cannot really be used because the horsehair upholstery may rip. I was wondering how much this is worth? Thank you for any help you may have to offer. — Lana in Kennewick

A. Horsehair fabric isn’t much used as a furniture upholstery material any more. It is generally confined to work by restorers. Back in its day, the fabric was popular and valued for both its lustrous finish it and its durability.

Made by weaving horse tail hair with either silk or cotton, the resulting fabric could be dyed or colored to the desired shade.

In Europe, it was used to upholster furniture as early as 1700. The heyday of use in America was from the Civil War through about 1900.

As it is a protein fiber and came from a living thing, horsehair fabrics can deteriorate. Whoever advised this settee be used either very lightly or not at all as sitting furniture was probably right. It wouldn’t likely stand up very well to day-to-day use.

Horse hair has a number of historical uses other than as upholstery fabric. It served as woven fishing line for centuries, and is still used for violin bows. A good insulator, horse hair makes warm gloves.

This settee is difficult to date. The style was made over a long period of time and by many makers — both famous and anonymous American companies.

The style has hints of Late Georgian, Regency and Rococo Revival design influences. The Late Georgian and Regency periods cover the early part of the 19th century, while Rococo Revival furniture dates from the 1850s to about 1900.

Given the dates of those eras in furniture design and the years that horse hair upholstery was popular, we can make a pretty good guess that this settee was made just one side or the other of 1900.

That would place it in what collectors call the Late Victorian period, a time when many different styles from many eras crashed together to create furniture designs.

These pieces do not currently carry a high value in the market. We see them routinely selling at auction for anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500.

Depending on condition and buyer interest, they can also sell for as little as several hundred dollars.

- 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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