'1794' dish is probably not very old Antiques: In many cases, the date on the bottom of a dish is not likely to be the date of manufacture.

January 25, 1998|By Ralph Kovel and Terry Kovel | Ralph Kovel and Terry Kovel,KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

The mark on the bottom of your dish says "1794," but does that really mean the dish is more than 200 years old? Probably not.

Early company marks were usually small pictures. Some companies used crossed lines, animal heads, initials or coats of arms. The date 1794 was used as part of the Royal Bayreuth porcelain factory mark after 1900. The year was included because the factory was founded in 1794.

Many other company marks have confusing numbers. Minton used 1793, the date that it was established. The Edwin M. Knowles Co. has been making collector plates since 1974 but has 1854 in its mark because it bought the name and history of an earlier firm.

I have a pair of wire fanback chairs. I was told by a friend that they were made during the Depression. Is that true?

Your chairs could date from the 1930s -- or as early as the late 1800s. In the 1870s, the development of technology to make thin steel cables created an inexpensive, durable, lightweight wire material for fencing, outdoor furniture and various small objects. Many wire items were made, including baskets, kitchen gadgets, plate holders, plant stands and all kinds of furniture. The older the wirework, the more it will show signs of age, such as paint chips, rust, resoldering or broken joints.

What are "Billikens"? A member of our family received one about 1915 and used it as a kind of good-luck talisman. It is a silly-looking Oriental doll with a pointed composition head and a soft, plush body. There's a label on his chest that says, "Licensed stamp copyright 1909 by The Billiken Company."

Your doll was designed by Florence Pretz of Kansas City, Mo. It was manufactured by E. I. Horsman Co., a New York City doll company.

Horsman made Billiken dolls with plush, velvet or pink sateen bodies from 1909 to 1912. The doll was like a teddy bear with the head of a Chinese deity. It was designed to be a good-luck charm.

Soft Billiken dolls were a big hit for a few years and then waned in popularity. St. Louis University sports teams are nicknamed the Billikens.

Your doll is worth from $350 to $400 if in excellent shape.

We collect telephone insulators made of glass or pottery. Many of the glass ones were made by the Hemingray Glass Co. of Covington, Ky. What else did the company make?

In addition to insulators -- the caps that protect the wire connections on telephone poles -- Hemingray made lamps, jars, flasks, tumblers, tableware, lanterns, lamps and more.

The company's lamps are distinctive because they were made with "drip-catcher" bases that had a ridge to collect spilled oil.

I have a "hair wreath" from the late 1800s. It was made from some of my ancestor's hair. The hair is woven into intricate flowers that form the wreath. The original tin-and-wood casing forms a shadow-box frame. When did people stop doing this sort of thing?

During the Victorian era, mourning was a ritual that came with its own art forms. Creating a memorial from the hair of a departed loved one became popular during the 1830s. It continued as a home craft and a professional occupation until the mid-1880s.

Hair was used to make wreaths, pictures, trophies and jewelry.

Although hairwork pieces make some collectors queasy, Victoriana is very desirable today. A wreath similar to yours sold for $110 last year.

Can you tell me anything about cut glass signed "Fry"? Someone told me Abraham Lincoln encouraged Mr. Fry to make cut glass.

Henry Clay Fry was born in 1840 in Lexington, Ky. In 1856, he moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked as a sales representative for William Phillips and Co., a glass-manufacturing company.

While on an 1860 sales trip to Springfield, Ill., Fry met Lincoln. We don't know whether they ever discussed glass.

After the Civil War, Fry worked at several different glass companies. He founded the H. C. Fry Glass Co. in 1901 in Rochester, Pa. The company made cut glass, etched glass, oven glass, kitchenware and the famous pearl art glass called "Foval."

Fry died in 1929, and the company closed in 1933.

I've seen several hand-sized advertising blotters at flea markets. When were blotters used?

Ink blotters are made of soft, absorbent paper that's patted on writing paper to soak up excess ink from dip pens or fountain pens. Joseph Parker & Son of New Haven, Conn., made the first modern blotting paper in the late 1850s. Blotters with advertising on the back started appearing in the United States about the time of the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

Insurance companies and banks were the first to print ads on the back of blotters. Other businesses, politicians and organizations soon followed.

The need for blotters faded when ballpoint pens came on the market in the late 1940s.

The Kovels welcome letters and answer as many as possible through the column. Write to Kovels, The Sun, King Features Syndicate Inc., 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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