Glass walking stick has value as folk art

By Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?February 9, 2014 

In today's What's It Worth? we explore the history and value of a very special walking stick -- child-size and made of glass.

Q. This small glass cane -- about 25 inches long -- was made by my grandfather for my father, Orville, to carry in the big Fourth of July parade of 1900 in Beaver Falls, Pa.

Its history is documented in the family, although we do not know for which glass company my grandfather worked. We always thought it unusual, and it has been prominent in the family's Fourth of July table centerpieces for decades. Is there value here? -- Jane in Kennewick

A. To respond to the question first: Yes, there is significant value to this hand-made cane. Beaver Falls -- in western Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh -- was a hotbed of industry at the turn of the 20th century.

There were two breweries, a stove company, tub company, iron works, a paper mill, chemical works, pottery company and an art tile firm. And at least three glass-making firms. Pretty busy for a town of 10,000 people.

Your grandfather most likely made this while working at the Co-Operative Flint Glass Co., which advertised their production of "blown and pressed table and druggists' glassware, jars, fish globes and glass novelties." The company was in operation from 1869 to 1937.

It most likely falls into the category of "end of day" glass.

End of day glass was any item made by glassworkers in their own time at the end of the day, using up the remaining molten glass in the pots. It therefore tended to be a mixture of all sorts of colors. Another name for the same kind of item was a "frigger."

What makes this walking stick valuable is that it has morphed from being a collectible item into the very special category of American folk art.

Folk art is defined as "Items made by tradespeople, primarily utilitarian and decorative."

As a piece of American folk art, this red, white and blue swirled and twisted glass walking stick would be of interest not only to collectors but to museums.

Adding to the value is the story of the 6-year-old boy for whom the walking stick was made.

Young Orville went on to live in Arizona as a youth and, at the insistence of his father -- the man who made the walking stick -- pursued higher education.

A star football player at the University of Arizona from 1913-16, the player known to his teammates as "Speedy" was inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.

Following service as an officer in World War I, Orville's career included work with William Randolph Hearst's newspapers. He was editor of a major midwestern daily newspaper, and he later held various positions in Washington, D.C., in the administrations of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

We spoke with Jane about the history of this walking stick and wanted to learn how a delicate glass object had survived all these years undamaged. The piece is hollow and the serpentine twists down the entire length are hard to produce.

She told us this walking stick was generally stored, well protected, in a buffet drawer and only came out for the Fourth of July holiday celebration. "My father was a hard-core Democrat and mother was a rock-ribbed Republican," she said. "And in our family, the Fourth of July was always a major event."

The walking stick has survived 114 years in excellent condition; there are no chips or damages and it is hardly scratched. The fact it is sized for a child adds to the value.

At a well-advertised auction, I would expect it to be estimated to sell in the $1,000 range. At a gallery or high-end shop, the price would be higher.

-- Terry K. 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 tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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