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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Family Heirlooms And Antiques - Part 5

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( Originally Published 1963 )



One example is buttons, although the Federal or Union ones certainly are not scarce. Buttons on the uniforms of Federal soldiers were issued by the government. They displayed an American eagle with a shield bearing a "C" (Cavalry), "I" (infantry), or "A" (artillery). State militia troops were issued buttons with the seal of the state. Metal could not be spared for buttons in the Confederate States, for it was desperately needed for weapons, so their soldiers' buttons were likely to be made of bone or leather. Some Confederate soldiers used buttons taken from the uniforms of Federal prisoners and defaced.

Military belt buckles were made in many designs. The United States and Confederate government buckles had the initials U.S. or C.S.A., respectively. Other belt buckles had the state seal, motto, or name of the state imprinted on them. Belt buckles worn by army officers often had different decoration from those worn by enlisted men; a naval officer's buckle probably bore an eagle and anchor.

Military leather goods, in addition to belts, included holsters, saber straps, and ammunition pouches. All are popular among present-day collectors. Canteens, tin mess kits with knife, fork, and spoon, knapsacks, and bullet molds are also desirable. Federal soldiers carried metal stencils cut with their name and unit to mark all of their belongings. Not only are the stencils a collector's item, but anything so marked is more valuable than a similar piece unmarked.

Soldiers, like sailors on long voyages, carved as a pastime. One popular product was neckerchief slides carved of bone in heart, shield, or round shape. Pipes also were carved, probably by prisoners of war, and some of these were quite elaborate.

Clothing is a field all by itself. It probably will be no trouble to dispose of any uniform or part of one, particularly if it is in fairly good condition. A hat band can be sold for $3 or $4, an officer's hat for three times as much. The sword carried by a Union officer is worth at least $25, one that belonged to a Confederate about $50.

Drums are another item now much sought after by collectors, who, when they find them, do not necessarily use them as a drum was made to be used. About the oldest drums anyone is likely to find are those from the Civil War period. Federal drums had painted on their sides the United States shield and eagle, and the words Regiment and Company, with space for the designations to be filled in. State militia and volunteer units for the War Between the States had special decoration painted on their drums by way of identification. When a drum was retired from service, its head was sometimes painted with a commemorative scene.

The snare drum was preferred in this country for military units. The bass drum, a much larger instrument that is beaten at either end, appeared chiefly in military parades. The heads of old drums were parchment, the sides usually maple, although other wood was sometimes used.

The cords on the side of a drum are for tuning it when it loses its resonance either from long use or being wet. By tightening the cords, the tone quality is improved. These cords are one method of estimating the age of a drum. Before and during the Civil War, the cords were inserted through holes in the top and bottom hoops. Afterward, they were held in place by metal hooks attached to the edge of the hoops by metal clips.

The military drum found in an attic is almost certain to be more valuable than the violin with broken strings or the battered clarinet. Making music was a favorite form of entertainment at home among Victorians. In late Victorian days the guitar, Jew's harp, mouth organ or harmonica, and the ocarina or sweet potato were popular. It may even be possible to sell the banjo, which was the instrument to own during the early 1900's. Accordions are perhaps more popular nowadays than they were 75 years ago, but this does not necessarily mean that the old one will be salable except as a curiosity.

Important stringed instruments such as the various styles of piano need the advice of an expert. So probably would a harp, which was a much more popular instrument a century ago than it is today. There is considerable interest in melodeons, harmoniums, and various other types of organ. Player pianos, which were so popular in the late 1800's, arc being manufactured again. and so it's quite possible that an old one could be sold without much difficulty. Certainly the rolls which enabled the player piano to make music arc salable. There is some market also for hymnals and songbooks.

Music boxes entrance so many people that it is never necessary to hunt long in order to find a new owner for one you don't want to keep. Their tinkling tunes seem to have some kind of special appeal, whether the box itself is large or small, decorative or not. Many kinds and sizes were made. The Swiss have long been noted for the production of music boxes, but they were manufactured in other European countries and later in this country. Old Swiss music boxes of the cylinder type often play six, eight, or ten tunes; later ones-but still antiques now-have interchangeable cylinders or perhaps attachments such as bells or drums. Boxes that produced their music by means of disks were made under several trade names; some played more than 20 disks, others changed disks automatically, and any of them might have been equipped with attachments that ranged from bells to a zither. Miscellaneous objects such as steins, jewel boxes, and carved wooden plates have been made with tiny music boxes concealed in or under them so that one or more tunes can be played after a spring mechanism has been wound with a key.

The "talking machine" or phonograph that was invented by Thomas A. Edison in the 1880's was being manufactured by several firms before 1900. The Columbia Gramophone was patented in 1885. Victor was not the only make with a large horn flowering full-blown, like a morning glory, from its top. Many old phonographs no longer produce music, and the sounds produced by those that still function cannot be rated as good music. Old phonographs are chiefly curiosities, but even so, one that works can be sold for $25 or better.

However, there is quite a cult for collecting old phonograph or Victrola records. Early jazz records bring the highest prices, for there are many jazz buffs. There also is a market for opera records made by such golden stars of the past as Enrico Caruso, Alma Gluck, Marcella Sembrich, Frieda Hempel, Nellie Melba, Johanna Gadski, and such later artists as Maria Jeritza, Amelita Galli-Curci, and Geraldine Farrar. Master records are most valuable.

Before the days of the talking machines, probably during the era of the melodeon, it was the fashion to pass many an evening looking at views through a stereoscope. This device, invented in England a few years previously, first captivated Americans around 1850. It worked this way: Dual pictures, mounted on a card side by side, of the same object or scene (taken from slightly different angles) were placed in an adjustable rack before dual eyepieces. As a person looked through the eyepieces, the pictures blended into a single, striking, apparently three-dimensional image - of Niagara Falls, the Pyramids, or the canals of Venice, for example. The picture cards, which came in sets, chiefly showed famous places, natural wonders, and the like, although there were some sets on such subjects as Rogers' statuary groups, whaling, the Alaskan gold rush, and transportation.

Magic lanterns were not introduced from Germany until about 1890; they continued to be popular until 1910 or a few years later. The name came from the fact that the first ones housed a kerosene lantern inside the machine. Colored glass slides were inserted between the lantern and the lens, and were projected as pictures on a wall or a sheet. The condition and size of an old magic lantern will determine whether or not it can be sold. If you find a buyer, you might as well throw in any slides too.

Games were another way Victorians passed the evenings, and many of their favorites are still popular. Sometimes a person is lucky enough to come across a beautiful set of dominoes in a handsome case. The finest dominoes were made from ivory or ebony or carved from bone. Cribbage boards and chess sets also ranged from beautiful carved pieces of Chinese ivory to rather primitive homemade ones of wood. Boards for backgammon and other games may still be quite handsome, or may be scarred, commercially-made ones of inexpensive materials. Whether the old pin-on games that were a staple of children's parties, and the wherewithal for tiddlywinks, fish pond, old maid, and snap, which adults played with gusto between 1890 and 1914, are to be turned over to youngsters, sold, or thrown away is a decision for the finder. Bible games, played with cards, were permitted in the most strict households, and some of these sets may be quite old and are certain to be prized by a collector or restoration.

Playing cards are an ancient pastime that came to Europe from either China or India. Extremely old round cards from India, for example, are displayed in museums. Playing cards certainly were common in Europe during the fourteenth century, for in 1397 in Paris an edict forbade working people to play at tennis, bowls, dice, cards, or ninepins on working days. The symbols on playing cards have changed a great deal through the ages. Old playing cards can be most interesting, and collecting and studying them fascinating. The chips used with playing cards were ivory, bone, or sometimes mother-ofpearl. Card-playing or "gaming" was so general in American cities by the mid 1700's that most homes included tables for the purpose. If you find a table, then look also for cards and chips.

That dirty old bag of marbles is nothing to toss away or give to the children. Adults who no longer play marbles, but who remember the game nostalgically, collect them. Long, long ago marbles actually were made out of marble. During the 1800's they were made of clay, porcelain, and glass. Those made from clay were properly called migs. An aggie was a large marble made of real agate. Many old marbles were made of colored and striped glass, and sulphides were glass with a small silvered figure encased in the marble. Crockies were made of pottery with a shiny brown or blue glaze, and steelies were steel ball bearings. Crockies and steelies are not as valuable nowadays as migs and aggies. One mig may sell now for more than a bagful cost 50 to 75 years ago.

The many fascinating hours which grown-up Victorians spent indoors with a stereoscope and view cards were matched by the time youngsters spent gazing into a kaleidoscope. This was a tube about a foot long that had bits of colored glass in the bottom, and a fixed lens. When the tube was turned, a child could watch endless, varicolored geometrical patterns as they formed. If you come upon a kaleidoscope, you'll find it hard to put down.



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