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( Orginally published 1962 )
In the search for lost treasures of all kinds, not even such a mundane item as the "potty chair" should be overlooked. Potty chairs of the early 1700's actually belong in the museums-and not in your attic or basement.
Shaped like miniature wing chairs with a hole cut in the seat, they may differ a little in design from our modern potty chairs but certainly no one can mistake them for anything else but what they are. Even potty chairs from a later period, the early 1800's, are worth rescuing from the junk pile, since they can be valued at around $50 apiece, making them worth what little trouble it takes to cart them down from the attic.
Anything the young ones of long ago needed is worth locating. Like the objects made for infants who reached the crawling stage, for among these are the early Colonial "fenders," which were built to keep the little ones from burning themselves in the fireplace.
Or the ladder-back high chairs of the late 1700's. One of these is today on display in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, Mass., and if you are lucky enough, you might find another similar to it.
Children's cradles from the Colonial period are items eagerly sought by collectors. Condition and age, of course, are important here, but it is still possible to find them occasionally.
Even the old-fashioned "baby tenders" dating from the 1700's are collectors' items. These were standing stools made complete with a tray for the child's toys.,/p>
And then, of course, there are always the "hornbooks!" When America was young, times were very different. Paper was scarce and education was limited. Yet one thing, however, was then as it is today: the general contrariness and destructiveness of the younger generation.
Still, the young ones had to be taught, so the older generation made use of an "elementary school book." This was a "book" which had been used previously in older countries and which is generally called a "hornbook."
The American hornbook consisted of one sheet, on which was printed the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer. To save the sheet, which was considered very precious, it was pasted upon wood and then covered with a thin, transparent piece of horn; thus the name hornbook.
Occasionally there were other items on the page besides the alphabet and the Prayer. There were Roman numerals, capital letters or syllables, and sometimes arithmetic and religious instructions. The page always listed the alphabet in one form or another, and for this reason gained another name: the "abcderia."
Thousands of these abcderias were made in America, yet only very few have ever been located. This is one reason why they are considered collectors' items.
They are also important to us because from them our first Americans learned their daily lessons. However, much to the chagrin of these boys and girls of another day, the hornbook could and was put to an entirely different purpose. The hornbooks were made in the shape of paddles and when the young student did not learn his lesson properly, he was upended and his hornbook used to impress him with the necessity for doing better on the following day.
It must have seemed incongruous to the young student that his hornbook was considered so valuable that he was not allowed to touch it even while studying, but his elders could, and did, use it, of all things, as a paddle.
Of course, not every children's item which you should watch for were so disliked by them. Toys headed the children's list of enjoyable items-and they should be at the top of the treasure hunter's list of odds and ends he might find anywhere, from his attic to his cellar.
Like the toy fire engines made during the 1800's which are now valued at close to $100 apiece. Or toy strollers, the old fashioned wicker kind which you see occasionally at auctions, and which may be valued at $25 or $30, depending on age and condition.
Also, do not forget the trading cards, which were originally put out as part of an advertising scheme. These were the advertisers' commercials of the gay nineties. They were comical or had colorful puzzles on them, or sometimes even pretty girls-all with the purpose of selling something to the consumer.
The children collected them then, as now they collect airplane and baseball cards. Today, these trading cards of yesteryear belong in the hands of the collectors. Value of these cards depends of course on their rarity and condition, but, if you can find a rare example in fine condition, the collectors will buy it eagerly.
Early Colonial or early American toys of any kind are all worth something. It has not been a hundred years since the manufacture of toys became widespread in America. Early toys were made without the benefits of mass production, and because of this they were expensive. Because of this they are also extremely rare and valuable -if you can find them.
This scarcity of toys is not only true of early Colonial toys. It is also true of all the ages before this time, and this is a fact which you must remember when watching for toys.
Toys in Early America were scarce-and dear to the children. Some of the toys were quite old and may even have been brought from Europe by the first pioneers, perhaps even drawn across country in the covered wagons.
Who knows, for instance, in what backwoods second-hand store you might find toys dating back to the times of the Middle Ages! These European toys were often of the finest quality, some of them having been made by the same master goldsmiths who made jewelry and ornaments for the finest gentry. Little toy knights and toy flags with which the children played "crusader."
Sometimes an item from an earlier period than our own might, to our eyes, resemble toys-and yet not have been used as toys at all! Like the fashion dolls which members of European royal families sent to each other, and the Parisian fashion dolls which were set up on display in Europe. Dressed in the rich, luxurious clothing of their times, these fashion dolls of the Middle Ages are today collectors' items. Two dolls of this type are today on display at the University of Upsala in Sweden.
Even in a later period, fashion dolls made to display fashions of the period were popular. Colonial fashion dolls are also collectors' items. Some of them were brought to this country directly from France during the pre-Revolutionary days.
Yet in Colonial days fashion was not the only thing in the minds of the mothers, and dolls were also for the children to play with. Watch for any doll that is this old. You should even investigate hand-whittled wooden dolls for their possible value, as well as any of the cornhusk dolls you might find. These were crude, simple creations made from cornhusks by both the pioneers and the Indians.
There was not even one doll factory in the United States until the late 1800's; dolls were either imported or made by friends or parents. Any of these dolls is worth investigating. German dolls were imported to America for many, many years. These lovely old dolls came all the way from Germany to gladden the hearts of American children. Some had blue eyes, and they are the rarest-and the ones that should be watched for.
Also look for dolls which were made of a combination of wood and pewter. These can be valued at around $80 apiece, if they are old enough, in fine enough condition-and if you can find them. Also watch for old dolls with china heads. They, too, have become collector's items. Watch for costume dolls. Some of these are quite rare and unusual, and certainly well worth investigating if they are old enough.
Also watch for doll houses, some of which are very old and quite fabulous and, as such, are collectors' items. Complete with dolls, rugs and everything else a real home would have, they belong in the museums-if you can find them. Some of the European doll houses were not made for the children, however, but for the adults. They were large doll houses, sometimes eight feet high, and a few are today in museums in Europe-where you could place another if you could find it.
Most of the doll houses, however, were made for the children, as were the toys, furniture and dolls, but whatever it is, if it belonged to a child and if it is rare enough, old enough and in fine enough condition, the collectors will pay you well for it-if you can find it.
All parents who want their children to save money buy banks for them. Or at least that is the way it used to be. Today, it is the parents who want the old banks because they can be lost treasures in disguise.
There are mechanical, semi-mechanical and still banks-all of them worth at least something. Some of them are worth a great deal, depending upon rarity, condition, and age.
There is, of course, no way of telling exactly which banks are missing. What we do have is a series of values for known banks that have passed into or through the hands of the experts-and if you are lucky, you will find similar ones. Or possibly you might even find a very rare bank that has never even been listed.
Values for some of the more valuable known mechanical, semimechanical and still banks are as follows:
Help the Blind-$500.
Locomotive [Fireman shovels coin into firebox] $500.
Man-[In frock coat, behind grill] $400.
Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe-$600.
Ram-[Bucking, boy thumbs nose] $350-$500.
Shoot the Chute-$500-$1200.
Teddy and The Bear-$75.
Watch for any of the above. That old bank made to save pennies might turn out to be worth many dollars.