Antique Appraisals

What’s It Worth?: Lighters, carnival glass are longtime collectibles, but what is their value?

What’s It Worth?

A collection of lighters and a lovely carnival glass bowl are reviewed in What’s It Worth?
A collection of lighters and a lovely carnival glass bowl are reviewed in What’s It Worth? Contributed photos

Readers’ questions about very different items are the topic of today’s What’s It Worth? Between the two categories covered — cigarette lighters and Carnival glass — one is more collectible but low in value, while the other is less-collected these days but retains a fair price.

Q. I have ended up with a larger than I would have ever thought collection of cigarette lighters. It came about innocently enough. My dad was a smoker and when I was 6 or 7, he would jokingly ask me, “Hey, got a light?” So, at some point I got a cheap lighter and when he next asked, I surprised him by saying, “Sure do,” and pulled it out. The collection just grew from there as I found more and people gave me lighters. Now I’d like to know if any of them are rare or valuable — Arturo in Pasco

A. Lighters are a lot older than most of us would expect, having been invented in the 1820s and improved in the 1880s. Those older lighters — and even some modern ones — can have good collector values. Others from recent times are quite common and of little value.

The original manual versions from the 19th century were called “strike lighters” and worked like a match. You’d scratch a flint with a little wand that had a hard metal tip and an attached wick. Sparks would fly and the wick, which had been soaked in a flammable fluid, would ignite. Modern versions are still sold today.

By the end of World War I, lighters had become both advertising vehicles — like these four from Arturo’s collection — and many were also quite artistic and attractive. Some were made of precious metals and a few even featured diamonds or other gemstones.

Rather popular as collectibles, there are societies of lighter collectors in the United States and Great Britain.

Values depend on maker, with Zippo, Dunhill and Ronson among the most collectible. What is advertised or promoted is also important. Sometimes, the more obscure the organization, the higher the price. Lighters from U.S. military units, including Navy ships, are also of interest to many collectors.

Cigarette lighters that advertise cigarettes — such as these — are quite common. In good operating condition and with no damage, each lighter would sell for about $10.

Q. I have had this colorful glass bowl for a long time. It was given to my mother in 1923. It is about 9 inches in diameter. Do you have a rough idea of what it is, and whether it’s worth having a local expert appraise it for insurance purposes? — Carla in Newberg, Ore.

A. This bowl is Carnival Glass and dates to the early 20th century. Iridescent carnival glass came about when a number of American firms started making inexpensive imitations of the now-antique, handmade art glass you see regularly valued on The Antiques Roadshow. Those super-expensive pieces have names like Tiffany, Lalique and Gallé.

American carnival glass was the poor family’s substitute — attractive, economical to make and affordable to buy.

This bowl carries the “N in Circle” mark of the Northwood Glass Company of Wheeling, W.V. Northwood was one of the county’s major producers of carnival glass. They were in business from 1902-23.

Carnival glass, so named because it was inexpensive enough to be given away as prizes in midway games at fairs and carnivals, became a collecting rage in the 1950s.

All the big producers were long out of business by then, but it was still affordable and there was quite a lot to choose from.

Carnival glass collecting became a highly organized field, with clubs, newsletters and sales lists distributed by dealers. More than 1,500 known patterns exist. While some were actually named by their makers, most pattern names came from people building their collections.

Carla’s carnival glass is a ruffled bowl in purple with a basketweave back in the Greek Key pattern.

At one time, carnival glass was quite expensive, with the highest-priced pieces selling at auction for thousands of dollars.

Today, as is true with nearly all glass categories, carnival glass values have dropped quite dramatically.

As recently as 15 or 20 years ago, a piece of Northwood Greek Key like this example would have been valued in the $500 to $750 range.

Today, $200 is more likely what you’d see at a shop or antique show.

Terry K. Maurer, 15-year senior member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, is a personal property appraiser in the Tri-Cities. 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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