Q: Can you give me any information on trade signs shaped like objects relating to particular businesses, professions and occupations? How can one tell the age of such signs and whether they are authentic or reproductions? Where can such signs be found?
A: Trade signs were homemade, made to order or mass-produced. They were also reproduced by folk
carvers and factories as decorative items that can sometimes be mistaken for the authentic examples, especially if they were purposely aged.
Authentic signs, depending on condition, age and origin, can command sizable sums. A 19th century optometrist's sign shaped like a pair of glasses with gold cast-iron frames and lenses picturing a pair of blue eyes sold for $6,400 at an auction last January in Owego, N.Y. Other figural trade signs sold at the same auction included a butcher's sign shaped like a lamb's head, which brought $150, and one made of papier-mache in the shape of a pretzel, for $30. A pawnbroker's sign made of copper and iron brought $350.
Back copies of the catalog and a list of sale prices are available for $15 postpaid from Anthony J. Nard & Co., U.S. Highway 220, Milan, Pa. 18831, or phone (717) 888-9404 for information about coming sales.
Especially desirable are three-dimensional wooden trade signs made by Samuel Robb, an exceptional carver of cigar-store Indians and other signs, who worked in New York City in the late 19th century. Keep in mind that any figural trade sign will command a higher price if it relates to a particular collectible: anything from fountain pens to pipes, locks and clocks.
Trade signs can be found at antique shows and auctions. If you believe a sign may not be authentic, ask the dealer for a money-back guarantee in writing.
Manufactured examples are easy to identify, while handmade ones could be reproductions that were made as decorative pieces or were intended to deceive.
On the other hand, some reproductions made by modern-day folk artists are artworks in their own right. There also are perfectly legitimate figural signs made by farmers to sell produce and "farm food" such as pies, cider and other goodies.
Such signs, however, are not usually three-dimensional "works of art" but rather flat forms fashioned from scrap boards or other suitable material.
Q: I have a beautiful antique cross set with small diamonds on a silver chain that I want to sell. Who might pay a decent price?
A: A collector who buys fine crosses is Leon Keileher, 1810
Deerfield Court, Hanover Park, Ill. 60103. Enclose a photo or description of the cross along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply or offer, or phone (708) 837-4156.
Q: How can I learn to identify reproductions and re-issues of Westmoreland milk and colored glass?
A: An excellent book with a free four-page price guide reveals those that have been re-issued or reproduced. "Westmoreland Glass 1950-1984" by Lorraine Kovar is available in softcover for $24.45 postpaid, or in hardcover for $32.45 postpaid, plus $5 for an optional 48-page price guide, from Antique Publications, Box 553, Marietta, Ohio 45750-0553; (800) 533-3433.
Q: How can I find out about miniature structures made by a company called Dept. 56 that can be put together to form little villages?
A: Write to Roger and Khristine Bain in care of the Village Press, an independent, secondary-market newsletter for Dept. 56 collectors, published eight times a year for $20 from 1625 Myott Ave., Rockford, Ill. 61103, or phone (815) 965-0901. Or send $2.50 for a 1991 back issue or a current sample copy.