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Antiques: Cast-iron gnomes always at home in garden |

Antiques: Cast-iron gnomes always at home in garden

Terry Kovel
| Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:00 a.m

Gnomes have gone from kitsch to fabulous since they became animated movie stars in “Gnomeo and Juliet.” But they have been used in gardens since the mid-18th century.

Ceramic garden gnomes known as “Gartenswerg” (garden dwarf) were first made in Thuringia, Germany. Local storytellers said that helpful gnomes would secretly visit yards at night to do some garden digging and weeding.

German stories and garden gnomes soon spread to many parts of Germany, France, England, the United States and anywhere gardening was important. Painted cast-iron gnomes were being made by the 1880s.

The English word “gnome” instead of the German word was first used in the 1930s. A typical garden gnome has a beard and a pointy red hat and holds implements that show him fishing, gardening, smoking or napping.

During World War II, the production of gnomes in Germany suffered and today most are made of plastic, cement or resin in Poland or China.

Today, with the help of the movie, the Travelocity Roaming Gnome and the popularity of joke “kidnappings” of garden gnomes, the small figures are seen in large and small home gardens. Collectors pay the most for old iron or terra-cotta gnomes.

Prices range from less than $50 for small new ones to hundreds of dollars for old examples. Repainting does not lower the value.


Q: I was given an interesting extension table from my aunt’s estate. The marks I found on it are “The Jefferson Wood Co., Louisville, Ky.” and “Extensole Corp., Sparta Mich.” Would it be worth my while to resell this table?

A: Extensole Corp. started out as Fine Arts Studio in 1936 and changed its name to Extensole in about 1946. It was purchased by another Michigan company in 1978. The company was known for its console and drop-leaf extension tables. The Jefferson Wood Co. may have been the retailer that originally sold your table or it might have manufactured the table using an Extensole mechanism. Your table is less than 70 years old, so it’s not an antique. If it’s in good shape, try selling it by advertising in your area. It’s easier to sell furniture locally because of transportation costs.


Q: I have a Cavern Club membership card from 1963. This was the beginning of a new era in music, the “British Invasion.” Many artists performed at the Cavern before becoming household names and the Beatles got off to a start there. The club was in a cellar under a warehouse in Liverpool. How much it is worth?

A: The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool on Jan. 16, 1957. The Beatles’ first performance was on Feb. 9, 1961. Although John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr had all performed at the club with other bands, this was George Harrison’s first appearance. The original drummer was replaced by Ringo Starr in August 1962. The Beatles performed at the Cavern Club almost 300 times. Their last performance at the club was Aug. 3, 1963. The club closed Feb. 27, 1966. It reopened that same year, but closed again in 1973. A new Cavern Club was built using some of the bricks from the old site. A shopping center with a large statue of the Beatles opened on the land above it in 1987. The club reopened to the public in 1991. The membership card has been reproduced. If you have one of the original cards, it could be worth more than $400.


Q: My husband bought a pair of “silver” figurines about 40 years ago. Each figure is a 3-D model of a woman from ancient Greece or Rome. She wears a draped gown and leans against a short column. On one column are the engraved words “Aizelin Sculpt. Gautier & Albinet Editeurs.” The 12-inch-high figures are very heavy and probably are of silvered bronze. What can you tell me about them•

A: Eugene Aizelin (1821-1902) was a famous French sculptor. A search online shows dozens of sales of his bronzes in recent years. Many of the sales were for sets, two figures and a figural clock. This was a popular decoration for fireplace mantels at the turn of the 20th century. Gautier & Albright was a foundry in Paris that cast many pieces by Aizelin. One of your classical figures could sell for $2,000 to $2,500 at auction.


Q: I am guardian for a friend who has 57 Royal Doulton figurines, plates and animals she wants to sell. I don’t know who to contact to sell the whole lot.

A: Unfortunately, Royal Doulton prices have dropped since 2008 and pieces are very difficult to sell. You should look for a shop or dealer who sells Royal Doulton. They have customers who may want them, so the shop will buy some. But remember, the shop must then make a profit. You might find an auction gallery that will take the entire group and charge you 20 percent or more of the final selling price. Perhaps some could be sold on Craigslist. Sometimes you can find a person who runs house sales who will add the figurines to the contents of a sale. It will not be easy to sell the pieces for very much money unless some are rare and very old.

Tip: To hang an old Coca-Cola tray, use a wire plate holder. The bent parts of the holder that touch the tray should be covered with plastic tubing. Thin plastic tubing is sold for use in fish aquariums.

Current prices

  • Stoneware ashtray, raised elk with letters BPOE, Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, 1900s, 4 inches, $20.
  • Hollywood Stars playing cards, Mamie Van Doren, Rita Hayworth, Barbara Ruick, Cyd Charise and more, all in pinup poses, 1940s, $75.
  • Captain Marvel Magic Dime Saver bank, Captain flying across front in red bodysuit, fistful of money, Fawcett Publications, 1948, 2 5/8 inches, $225.
  • Arranbee Nancy Lee “Arthur Murray Dancing Doll,” hard plastic, blond floss wig, blue sleep eyes, rosy cheeks, original rose velvet ball gown and gloves, c. 1950, 14 inches, $230.
  • Coca-Cola serving tray, sailor girl leaning against dock, holding fishing rod, 1940s, 10 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches, $255.
  • Skater’s lantern, brass, blue glass bulbous shade, thumbwheel wick adjuster, swing bail, stepped molded font, original burner, marked “W.B.G. Corp.,” Waterbury, Conn., 8 inches, $395.
  • New England corner chair, maple, birch and chestnut, stepped crest rail, continuous arm, circular handgrips, three baluster-turned stiles, square seat rail, c. 1800, 29 inches, $460.
  • Queen Anne brass and iron trivet, miniature English footman style, jointed brass carrying handles, curved front legs, four penny feet, mid 18th century, 9 x 7 inches, $515.
  • Whistle soft drink sign, “Thirsty• Just Whistle,” tin, orange bottle and background, 1930s, 11 3/4 x 12 inches, $1,090.
  • Galle pottery vase, grasshopper reclining on throne carried by four grasshoppers, beetle holding lance riding on grasshopper, praying mantis, naturalistic ground with gray lilies, marked, 10 x 12 inches, $7,475.
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