Sometimes antique or collectible items that are old, hard to find, unusual or rare can have good value. Sometimes, none of those conditions make any difference at all, and something that falls into several of those categories can be hard to sell, if it can be sold at all.
In today’s What’s It Worth? we answer readers’ questions about such objects, including where there is an active collector market for some items of their type. Are these valuable?
Q. In clearing our grandmother’s estate, we found several hundred of these old stereopticon pictures. This one is among the most colorful and shows a family seemingly enjoying an outing in the National Cemetery in Washington, D. C. Are these at all valuable? — Ron in Richland
A. Stereoviews feature cardboard-mounted, side-by-side photos that, when placed in a viewer, show a single, three-dimensional image. First developed in the 1840s, the lenses of the viewer give a look in detail and depth that was nearly magical.
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This example has been hand-colored and the pictures were taken by A. J. Jarvis. His firm documented the growth and development in our national capitol from 1870 to the turn of the 20th century.
Underwood and Underwood of New York published and distributed many of Jarvis’ views. Underwood bought out Jarvis in 1897. This view likely dates to the 1890s, during the period when the two companies had a marketing agreement.
Families in a cemetery are common on stereoviews. In the mid-1800s, Americans moved away from local churchyard burials and family plots to formal, planned cemetery garden settings. Most were public in nature.
It became traditional to visit graves for maintenance and decoration, and to use cemeteries for recreation. With their flower beds, monuments, fountains and ponds, they were lovely settings where families could picnic and play —and no one thought it odd or unusual.
There is an active market in stereo cards. Most views are common and bring low prices.
While values can range up to several hundred dollars each, common cards — even those in good condition — can be found for as little as 50 cents or a dollar.
Though the professional hand-coloring applied to this card and the setting make it of some interest to collectors, the value will not be high. An almost identical view failed to sell on eBay earlier this year. The asking price was $9.95 and there were no bidders.
This stereo view would be priced at perhaps $5 in a shop or at a show.
That said, with a big group such as Ron has found, each card needs to be analyzed individually. It is always possible that somewhere in the collection there are a few stereo views of much higher value.
Q. I’d like to know the approximate year of the picnic mentioned on this pinback button. My family spent time in South Dakota before coming to Western Washington. The ribbon reads “Annual Picnic
of the Old Emigrants Assn. McCook Canistota June 9-12.” It is worn and very hard to make out. I’m trying to figure out if my father may have attended this event when we lived in South Dakota. Thanks. — South Dakota TJ
A. Yours is a very tough question to answer with pinpoint accuracy.
Canistota, S.D., was founded in 1893 and incorporated in 1900. Today it is a town of about 700 people in McCook County, which is in the southeastern corner of the state.
Our research revealed a long history of church picnics held in Canistota, but no direct reference to an “Emigrants Picnic.”
There are clues on the back of the pin, however, that let us make an informed guess about the years during which this particular picnic took place.
The pin, made by the Whitehead and Hoag Company of New Jersey, has an 1896 patent date. So, this picnic must have been staged after 1896.
And, it was held over a four-day period — June 9-12. That probably means it included a weekend.
We searched the online records of the Canistota Clipper newspaper, which start with 1963. There was no reference to an Emigrants Association.
Whitehead and Hoag went out of business in 1959, so the picnic has to have been between 1897 and 1959.
As close as we can get to a date is to say probably during the first half of the 20th century.
From the ribbon’s design and the picture on the pin, our best educated guess is sometime between 1910 and 1940.
As to value, it is primarily sentimental, although someone in modern Canistota might be interested in it as a collectible.
Stereopticon cards and commemorative pins — like this one for a South Dakota picnic — have avid collectors. But are either of these items special enough to attract their interest?