Just as a skilled magician can make you see things that aren’t real, the antiques and collectibles world is filled with items that can baffle and mystify.
In today’s What’s It Worth? two readers ask about collectible pieces that are not quite what they seem at first glance.
Q. I found this little poster — it is about 10 by 12 inches — while moving an old piano. There is some damage and even a piece of transparent tape covering a tear. Can you tell me just what I have and how much it may be worth? — Jack in Pasco
A. In 1849, after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, there were only two ways for would-be prospectors to reach California.
One brought fortune seekers overland by wagon or on foot; traveling through rugged terrain and hostile territory. It took six months. More than a few didn’t make it.
The second way to get to the gold fields from the East was by sea. A six-month voyage from New York to San Francisco — around the tip of Southern America — meant seasickness, bad food and high expense. The ocean trip also took six months. Like the land route, some died along the way.
By the time of the trip advertised on this handbill — 1857 — the Gold Rush was playing out. The end of California’s gold fever came in 1855 or 1858, depending on which historian you read. Anyone seeking their fortune on this proposed trip on the “Good Ship Penelope” would have been coming very late to the game.
Or, they were more likely to have not come at all.
The only comparable examples of this handbill our research uncovered date to the 1970s, or perhaps the 1960s. So, at best, this appears to be a modern reproduction.
We found no vessel called the Penelope making the California run from New York any time during the gold rush. Moreover, there is no record that a company called the American-Neptune Lines ever sailed out of New York. Or anywhere else.
Our conclusion is that this is not a reproduction of an item from the 19th century, but rather a complete fabrication created in the late 20th century.
In excellent condition and sold as a “fantasy” item, it might be worth $20 or $30. With the obvious damage and tape repair, $5 to $10 would be more appropriate.
Q. I bought this tray for $3.50 at a secondhand store. It was so dirty and tarnished that no pattern or marks were visible. After much cleaning and polishing, it started to shine. The size is 14 by 18 inches, excluding the handles. On the back it says “English Silver Mfg. Corp., Made in USA by Leonard Silver.” There are also other very small marks on the back, one is a shield with what looks like the initials MRR (in capital letters). I would like to find out more, if you can enlighten me. — Edwina in West Richland
A. What collectors and dealers called silver “holloware” is one of those tricky areas of identification. Especially if an item is heavily tarnished, as this tray was, it can be impossible to determine manufacturer, age or even if it is Sterling quality or silverplate.
Now that Edwina has cleaned it, we can tell exactly what it is.
Not Sterling — which is 92.5 percent pure silver — this is silverplate. It has a very thin layer of silver electrically “plated” to a base metal; usually copper.
Be careful in cleaning silverplated items. That top layer of silver is so thin that excessive rubbing can take it completely off and expose the base metal.
The marks tell us that this was made during the years that English Silver Mfg. Corp. of Brooklyn, N.Y., had an agreement with the Leonard Silver Manufacturing Company of Boston for Leonard to market English’s line of silverplated items.
While this tray has an old-looking pattern, that marketing agreement was made in the 1980s. Leonard Silver didn’t start business until 1969 and English began in the 1950s.
So, this is a very modern piece. In fact, many of Leonard’s silverplated items were made by one of six or seven companies in India.
Value will be fairly low, probably $20 to $30.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.