In a lather over old mugs

THE CURIOUS COLLECTOR

March 14, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers

Q: I recently purchased three shaving mugs, each decorated with a fir tree symbol above the letters "T.C.L." Each one bears the owner's name in gold lettering: "Muncie Lipford," "J. A. Longacre" and "G. W. Rittenhouse." They're all marked on the bottom "G.B.S. Co." in gold and "Royal China International" in a circle with a crown. I like to pick up old mugs, but never found three of a kind before. How old and valuable are they?

A: Your mugs appear to date from the 1920s and are decorated with the symbol of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, a fraternal organization, according to shaving mug collector Burton Handelsman (18 Hotel Drive, White Plains, N.Y. 10605; (914) 428-4480). "G.B.S. Co." probably was the decorating firm and Royal China of Sebring, Ohio, the manufacturer. They're each worth $50 to $75 in good condition. G. W. Rittenhouse may have been a descendant of David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, a noted 18th-century patriot and inventor, adding special appeal for Philadelphia-area collectors.

Personalized shaving mugs began appearing in American barbershops around the end of the Civil War, when beards went out of fashion and shaving at home with straight-edged razors was downright hazardous. Men went to Victorian-era barbershops for a shave, haircut and conversation. For hygienic reasons, many barbers provided their regular customers with personalized mugs in which to mix the shaving lather and store their own soap and brush. With the rise of ready-mixed shaving cream, personalized mugs became old-fashioned almost as quickly as they had appeared. By the 1930s, around 30 years after Gillette introduced the safety razor, shaving mugs already were collectible.

Most ceramic shaving mugs were imported blank from France or Germany and personalized by American decorating firms. Some, like yours, were made and decorated here. Popular motifs included fraternal orders, as well as patriotic, sporting or simple floral designs.

"Occupationals" decorated with scenes from the owner's trade generally are most prized by collectors. Tradesmen's occupational mugs are fairly common, but few professional mugs exist. Occupationals depicting lawyers or doctors, or obsolete trades such as wheelwrights or electric trolley workers, can fetch a premium.

The auction record for a shaving mug is $8,300, paid for a doctor's mug depicting a physician taking a bedridden patient's pulse, with the words "Physician and Surgeon" under the picture. It sold in 1990 at an Anthony J. Nard & Co. auction in Milan, Pa.

Q: We have a lamp on a bronze base with an acorn-decorated stained glass shade, both signed "Tiffany Studios / No. 357 / S171." What's it worth?

A: Your circa 1900-1910 Tiffany table lamp, with a leaded glass acorn pattern shade, is worth around $5,500 retail in good condition, according to Alastair Duncan, author of "Louis Comfort Tiffany," ($39.95), an authoritative illustrated biography published in the fall by Abrams in cooperation with the National Museum of Art of the Smithsonian Institution.

Tiffany Studios was launched by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), a leader of the American art nouveau movement and a son of the founder of Tiffany & Co. L. C. Tiffany's commercially produced lamps, with stained, blown and leaded glass shades often decorated with flowers or insects, inspired many copies. Although authentic Tiffany studios lamps are marked, there are many imitations with fake marks on the market, so buying from a reputable dealer or auction house is important.

Q: How much is my balloon tire Schwinn Hornet Deluxe boy's bike worth? Its red paint is in excellent condition but some of its chrome is slightly pitted. There's a carrying rack on the back fender, headlights on the front fender and handlebars and a kick-stand. Its five original Schwinn logos are still legible.

A: Your circa 1957-58 bike, one of Schwinn's most popular

models, is worth about $400 to $600 as is; in pristine condition, its value could reach $900, according to vintage bicycle expert James L. Hurd, (1603 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 501, Chicago, Ill. 60616; (312) 454-7471), who is organizing an industry-sponsored Bicycle Museum of America. Until recently, Mr. Hurd was affiliated with the 97-year old Schwinn Bicycle Co., which went bankrupt in October.

Mike Fallon of Copake Country Auction, who held a very successful auction of vintage bikes and cycling memorabilia last year, has another one scheduled for April 17. For information or a catalog, contact Mr. Fallon at P.O. Box H, Old Route 22, Copake, N.Y. 12516; (516) 329-1142.

Solis-Cohen Enterprises

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