Plays and playing cards are the subjects of this edition of What’s It Worth? There’s a deck of 52 playing cards that commemorate the centennial of Washington’s “Emerald City” and three booklets produced to assist professional and amateur theatrical productions.
Q. My little play booklets fascinate me. They date from the 1930s and are complete scripts — with stage directions — for theatrical productions. Have you seen these before? — Pauline in Richland
A. We certainly have come across these booklets in the past. In fact, there’s even one in our personal collections. And they are fascinating, speaking to a time when entertainment in America was quite different from what it is today.
It was an era during which commercial radio broadcasting was barely starting, TV was unknown and movies had just begun to talk and sing.
Designed for stage production by touring professional companies or community and school amateur theaters, these little plays were quite popular and pretty easy to produce.
They are the kind of thing Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney might have used in one of those movies where they said, “Hey, we can use Uncle Al’s barn,” and “Mom’s old clothes can be the costumes. Just rig up a few spotlights.” “Let’s put on a show!”
These were published by several firms in the United States and Great Britain. The plays had titles such as Sarah’s Young Man, The Great Dark and Clover Time.
Most were one-act productions, with a small cast of characters, easy dialogue and simple — often humorous or farcical — plots.
We have seen these dated as early as 1903. They disappear at about the time of World War II.
There were accompanying booklets available, including instructions on makeup for the stage and simple set design.
Although these are all old, age doesn’t necessarily mean value. We have seen them sell for as little as 25 cents. The top end of the price range is about $5 each.
Seen and Sold
Here is a fascinating find, and an item we’d never seen before, from a recent Tri-Cities estate sale.
This deck of standard playing cards was made by the Brown & Bigelow Company of St Paul, Minnesota. Individual cards each feature a different Seattle or Northwest black and white photograph.
The back of the cards reads “100th Anniversary Greater Seattle Centennial Celebration 1952.” They were part of a celebration of Seattle’s anniversary.
What is now Seattle saw its first settlers with the arrival of the Denny Party at Alki Point in November of 1851.
One hundred years later, organizers decided to mark the city’s founding with a year-long celebration which ran throughout 1952.
As interesting as that background might be, the history of the company which produced these cards tells a true American success story.
Brown & Bigelow was founded in 1896 by young calendar salesman Hubert H. Bigelow, with the financial backing of a man named Hiram Brown.
The firm was successful almost immediately, and by 1902 had opened an office in Boston. By the 1930s, they were the national leader in their field. Brown & Bigelow were best known for their promotional calendars, which featured work of American artists such as Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and Gil Elvgren.
Quickly moving into the then-developing fields of speciality advertising and promotional products for businesses, Brown & Bigelow began making such diverse products as cigarette lighters, matchbook covers, shoe brushes and men’s neckties. They even made a child’s red plastic toy fireman’s helmet for Texaco gasoline station giveaways.
And they produced playing cards. Lots and lots of playing cards.
The company is still in business today, making calendars, playing cards and a raft of individually logo-ed products for businesses.
Decks of Brown & Bigelow cards are listed regularly on ebay and other internet sales sites. Those that bring the highest prices feature pinup or cheesecake illustrations. They can be as much as $30 or $40 in excellent condition.
For these Seattle Centennial cards, prices of items that sold have been in the $5 to $15 range.
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 email to firstname.lastname@example.org.