Ironing clothes is a household chore made easier through the decades by clever inventors and entrepreneurs, like a New Yorker profiled in today’s What’s It Worth? column. We’ll also answer a reader’s question about some political collectibles from the 1960s.
Q. This heavy hand iron belonged to our great grandmother. It is marked as having been patented on November 28, 1876 and has an unusual pattern on the bottom - it is not smooth. It seems different and we wonder if it has any value? — Sharon in Walla Walla
A. This is a variation of the “sad iron,” and the word sad didn’t always mean only what we think today — unhappy or melancholy. In the 19th century, sad was another word for “heavy.” And, yes, this iron is heavy, weighing nearly 5 pounds, although it is only 4.5 inches long.
It was made by Michael Mahoney’s Architectural Works in Troy, N.Y. Mahoney was an astute businessman as well as an enterprising inventor.
The city of Troy is in western New York, on the east bank of the Hudson River. It has been a center of manufacturing since soon after the American Revolution.
When Mahoney applied for his iron’s patent, he said that ordinary smooth-bottom sad irons were hard to use. They required too much strength to apply the amount of pressure needed to get a gloss or polished finish on fine linens.
“My invention relates mainly to irons for housekeepers and laundry purposes,” he wrote in his application. He said the bottom of his iron “consists in the formation of indentations arranged on the face of the iron so that the pressure applied will be condensed . ...”
Thus, his innovation would make that kind of ironing easier. And, to housewives of the day, easier meant better. And, easier and better meant lots of people would want one of these irons. They were popular.
We see this version occasionally in the marketplace today and the values are not high. This would likely be priced between $15 and $25 in an antiques shop.
Q. I have a number of these small lapel pins from one or the other of Richard Nixon’s presidential campaigns and I’d like to know if they have any value to today’s collectors? — Josh in Kennewick
A. Political collectibles in this country go all the way back to buttons issued for George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. However, those weren’t the type of buttons we see for modern political campaigns. They are actually shank-back buttons to sew onto clothing, made of brass, and read “Long Live The President” over the initials “GW.”
The first so-called “modern” presidential campaign buttons were widely distributed in 1896 for the president-to-be William McKinley and for William Jennings Bryan’s first of three unsuccessful runs for the White House.
The hardest to find are from the Democratic 1920 campaign of James Cox (lost to Warren Harding) and the 1924 run of James Davis (lost to Calvin Coolidge).
Valuable pins and buttons are almost always related to politicians whose terms of office were marked by very significant accomplishments or involve a colorful personality. As a general rule, winners’ items are more desirable than election losers.
The market values have swayed back and forth through the decades and, with a very few exceptions, the “modern campaigns” — say from the middle of the 20th century onward — have never had really high prices.
Millions of items were produced by each major party for each presidential campaign. And people tended to keep them. So, hundreds of thousands of any one example might exist.
After running unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy in 1964, Richard Nixon served a full term and a partial term as president from 1969 to 1974.
In the wake of the widening Watergate scandal, he became the first president to resign his office, on Aug. 8, 1974.
While the Nixon administration accomplished many things, history has yet to fully judge his presidency.
And, there are tons of Nixon collectibles out there, not only from his two winning runs for the White House but also his earlier campaign against Kennedy.
Each of these pins might bring $5.00 or thereabouts, but a buyer could be difficult to find.