Antique Appraisals

Plenty around from pre-disposable era

The majority of men shave every day, using multi-blade modern razors or battery-operated devices that look like they were designed by engineers at NASA.

In our throwaway society, the disposable blade razor has become the norm. It wasn't always so.

Today's What's It Worth answers a reader's question about his antique razor blade sharpening device.

Q. I've had this rotating, hand-operated razor blade sharpener for years. It's designed for use with single edge razor blades and operates with a twirling motion of your wrist. The original box and instructions still still with it. The papers say it was made in Germany. What can you tell me about this?

-- Jim in Pasco.

A. To most readers, this will look like technology that strictly represents a bygone age.

While years ago -- up until the early part of the 20th century -- many men used sharpeners to extend the life of their blades and get a close shave, the devices haven't completely died out. As recently as 2004, a U.S. patent was issued for a new sharpening device.

It joins hundreds of others that came to market over the years.

At antique shows, we see many different devices designed to perform the function of sharpening razor blades. Some, like this one, only work on single-edge blades, others were designed for double edged blades. A few machines would do both.

Many of these odd devices look like they were invented by Rube Goldberg, that cartoon designer of overcomplicated contraptions. Others are as simple as a version of a sharpening stone.

They all seem to have worked, some better than others. Just as there were several thousand different brands of razor blades over the years, there were several hundred different brands of sharpeners. They had names like Rotostrap, the Wizard Machine, Blade Master, Ace and Blue Beard.

This sharpener, marketed as the "Tarantella," was available in about 1905 and is clearly labeled as being "Made in Germany." The name refers to the action of the device when in use; it imitates the moves in the Tarantella, a twirling Italian folk dance.

It's valued at $60 to $75.

Q. I've had this little lacquer music box since I was a kid in the 1950s. It sat on my dresser and plays Let Me Call You Sweetheart. At one time, there was a paper label on the bottom reading "Made in Japan."

It measures 5 inches in diameter and works very well. Is it worth much?.

-- Sue in Pasco

A. This is an example of something that doesn't need to be all that old to be collectible.

Generally, an item has to be 100 years old or more to be considered an antique. That's the age the U.S. government uses. If something is newer, it is considered a "collectible," the category for this music box.

Most of the merchandise seen at antique shows and shops falls into the collectible category. That's especially true in this part of America, which was settled much later than the rest of the country. Something that is an antique often is more rare than a collectible because there are just fewer of them around.

There are many music box collectors. Some specialize in very old instruments, mostly the Swiss-made pieces from the late 19th century. Others look for boxes like this one, newer but quite collectible.

The hobby is supported by collectors' groups like the Musical Box Society International and the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association.

The design of this box is Oriental and looks something like the images we see of "Geisha Girl" porcelain. It makes sense that it came from Japan and we'd date it as being made after World War II.

Condition is all important, as these little boxes were imported in great quantity. A collector can take their time and wait for a box in perfect condition to come along before they add to their collection.

This powder jar/ music box is a great shape and the music plays so we'd rate it a "10" on a 1-to-10 scale.

At a shop, you can expect to see it priced between $20 and $40.

* Terry Maurer, a Tri-Cities personal property appraiser and antique dealer, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. You may submit your antiques and collectible questions to What's It Worth by e-mail to