Antique Appraisals

What’s It Worth?: Small town football team keepsake has collector value

What’s It Worth?

Someone in the small North Dakota town of Casselton made this pillow cover commemorating its early 20th century high school football team.
Someone in the small North Dakota town of Casselton made this pillow cover commemorating its early 20th century high school football team. Contributed photos

Fall is in the air; and so are footballs. The college season kicked off over the Labor Day weekend and the NFL’s first regular games were last week. In Canada, they’ve been playing since late June.

Today, we tackle a reader’s question about a high school football keepsake. It goes back 110 years and is unlike anything we’d seen before.

We will also report on the background and value of a truly pitiful doll.

Q. I purchased this high school football souvenir at an estate sale. More than likely a pillow top, the overall fabric size is 21 inches square and the image measures 10 by 13 inches. There is no label and the felt letters are hand-stitched on. Any ideas on this one? — Lisa in Kennewick

A. Casselton was and is a small community in North Dakota, west of Fargo near the Minnesota border. Its population is 2,400 today.

In 1906, the year the high school football team was immortalized in this photo, Casselton had a population of about 1,500.

When this picture was taken, Casselton High School’s players may have included the gentlemen at each end of the top row. It was common for coaches and other “volunteer” staff of that era to play on rural high school football teams.

We have had the opportunity to examine this fabric piece in person and believe it is a one-of-a-kind item, not commercially manufactured.

That “homemade” slant puts it on the edge of the folk art field and likely increases the value.

Our research has found no other comparable items, which leads us to believe this is, indeed, a unique, homemade object.

The marketplace is the ultimate determiner of values. That is, the only way to find out for certain what something like this is worth is to sell it.

However, comparing the 1906 Casselton piece to other regional, early 20th century high school football souvenirs, we’d say $200 is a realistic minimum value.

One more note. The Irish Setter in the photo is not the current Casselton mascot. Today they are the Squirrels.

Q. This summer, I attended an exhibition of mid-20th century toys at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. Imagine my surprise when my favorite childhood doll was a featured item. What can you tell me about “Poor Pitiful Pearl”? — Liz in Walla Walla

A. She was a child of the 1950s, Poor Pitiful Pearl — the doll.

Based on a cartoon character by William Steig, Pearl had her coming out as a doll in 1957.

Steig was known for his cover illustrations for The New Yorker magazine and other stylish works.

Of Poor Pitiful Pearl, he said “What she needs is a refreshing bath, a hair-do, a nice dress, clean sox, new shoes and a chance to admire herself.”

Even given her lamentable looks, this vinyl head doll was popular for a number of years.

Originally made by Brookglad, with a storybook by Steig as part of the package, the manufacture of Poor Pitiful Pearl was taken over by the Horsman Doll Company in 1963.

She lived on as a doll until at least the 1970s, by which time she was being made by Tristar.

Over the years, Poor Pitiful Pearl came in 12- and 16-inch sizes.

While her shabby costume was certainly pitiful, as was her plaintive look, she also came with a party dress. So, you could dress up your doll if she had a special event to attend, like a tea party.

Poor Pitiful Pearl dolls are among those items that have dropped in value in the past 20 years. At one time an excellent example, with original clothing, would have been priced at upward of $400. Today, you can find them at online sales for between $10 and $50.

Terry K. Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a senior 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