"Food Will Win the War" Hoover's WWI Era Relief Program and Textiles

I saw my first WWI embroidered flour sack a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the present owner only knew that it was in her family and her family was from Nova Scotia.

Grains were sent to Belgium to stave off starvation; In thanks, Belgium women sent the embellished sacks back. The embellished bags were sold to raise additional funds.

Grains were sent to Belgium to stave off starvation; In thanks, Belgium women sent the embellished sacks back. The embellished bags were sold to raise additional funds.

I was thrilled!  I’d heard of these flour sacks but, in 20 years as an appraiser, I’ve never seen one!  Here’s the explanation.

 In the early days of the First World War, France allied herself with Russia; Germany, at war with Russia, then declared war on France.  In order to invade France, Germany occupied Belgium and confiscated all of the Belgian’s food; as Belgium was an ally of England, England then declared war on Germany.

In an attempt to starve the Germans out of Belgium, England blockaded Belgium.  This blockade had the unfortunate consequence of limiting food to the Belgian people and it is estimated that over the course of the war 7 million Belgians and French experienced significant hunger.


 Under the guidance of future president Herbert Hoover, then living in London, the Commission for Relief in Belgium was established.  This commission relied entirely on donations and volunteers.  Hoover was able to organize fundraising and grain purchases in the US; he managed to find ships to carry the grain to Rotterdam where it was unloaded; he persuaded warring countries not to intercept the four, sugar and grain that was essential to feed 10 million people every day.  He successfully lobbied for families in the US to reduce waste and began the “Food Will Win the War” campaign.In addition to the food itself, the cotton sacks were carefully monitored.  Germans needed cotton to produce munitions so, even empty, the sacks could not be allowed to fall into the German hands. The sacks were distributed to schools, convents and small businesses, employing thousands of Belgians who produced clothing, pillows and bags.  These items were sold to produce income but many were embroidered with notes of thank you and returned to the US. 


This bag is a wonderful and tangible reminder of a time when individuals could band together outside the structures of governments to help restore and retain humanity in the world.  Historically and morally they are precious; monetarily they bring $300-500 when sold.



Blue Willow China - Always in Fashion

I have several pieces of Blue Willow china but not a complete set.  The largest piece is a platter that is 15 inches across.  One friend tells me that Blue Willow platters are valuable antiques but another told me that Woolworth’s used to sell Blue Willow and that I should just donate my pieces to charity.  The pieces have no marks but I know they are at least 60 years old.


I’ve recently been re-reading Lucy Maude Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” series.  These stories, originally published over a century ago, tell all about the adventures of a young girl growing up in rural Prince Edward Island.  In the first book, town busybody Rachel Lynde plans a booth for the church fair.  She wants the booth to have the look of an olde time kitchen so she decorates the booth with Blue Willow china.

Blue Willow porcelain was first imported to England from China in the 18th century.  By 1780, porcelain manufacturer Thomas Minton had reproduced the pattern on a line of his dishware.  Over the years Royal Worcester, Spode, Wedgwood, and Swansea all followed with their own versions.  Blue Willow has never been out of production somewhere in the world ever since.

Blue Willow china tells the story of a forbidden love.

Blue Willow china tells the story of a forbidden love.

One of the reasons for the popularity is the charming detail of a castle, a fence, a boat on a river, two figures crossing a bride and a pair of birds.  All of the details are components of an ancient love story; several variations exist but the simple version is as follows.

A young Chinese noblewoman falls in love with her father’s clerk.  Her father forbids them from seeing each other and fences his daughter within the garden.  As the father plans to marry his daughter off to one of his pals, the clerk arrives by boat to spirit the daughter away.  The young clerk frees the noble woman and the two lovers flee across a bridge. They are pursued by her father’s guards and killed.  The gods take pity on the deceased sweethearts: they transform them turn into two lovebirds who fly together forever.

The great production of Blue Willow over the past two and a half centuries means a great deal of variety in values.  Eighteenth and nineteenth century porcelain examples can command prices into the thousands and even some 20th century transferware pieces are highly collectable.  Your stoneware pieces have some age to it as evidenced by the crazing (tiny cracks in the glaze) but the crazing also detracts some from its value.  From the photographs, I believe you have both 19th and 20th century pieces by different makers.   The group has a monetary value of about $100 and a delightful story for the ages. 

If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot ... the role of the Fid

A gentleman came into an evaluation event a few weeks ago with a collection of what looked like bone spears.  Several were plain with different lengths and widths but five of them were decoratively carved.  I’d never seen anything like this collection and was ashamed that I didn’t know what they were.

A collection of antique fids.  

A collection of antique fids.  

My ignorance must have made the gentleman’s day:  he was trying to stump me and he did!  What he had was a collection of fids.

I ought to have known about the fids.  I grew up on the east coast and once spent a freezing October on a boat in Maine’s Penobscot Bay at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School.  A fid is a cone shaped maritime tool used to loosen rope knots on a ship, to hold knots open or to separate strands of rope in preparation for splicing. The length and diameter of the fid corresponds to the thickness of a rope.

Fids are utilitarian and plain and were traditionally made of bone or wood.  (Contemporary fids are made of steel, aluminum and even high impact plastic.)    However, some highly decorative ones have been found.

Sailors on whaling ships spent months at a time at sea and they had access to whale bone and walrus tusks.  This marine ivory could be carved and decorated to make decorative gifts or utilitarian items like swifts, tatting bobbins, parasol handles and the like.  One sailor obviously thought the on board fids a little too pedestrian so he carved decorative elements onto the handles.

Maritime collectors prize decorative fids.   The two examples shown here, about 6 and 8 inches, would each bring $200-300 at auction in a place where the sale of ivory is legal.  Here in California, ivory is legal to own but not to sell.

The Crown Jewels and the Anointing Spoon

Q: We found this boxed set of spoons in my aunt's dining room. It doesn't look like they were ever used so I suppose they are souvenirs of something. Can you identify them or explain their strange shape?


A:  Let's talk about Britain's Crown Jewels and the part the "Anointing Spoon" plays.

The Anointing Spoon is part of Britain's Crown Jewels. The term "Crown Jewels" does not refer to the entire wardrobe of gems and jewelry owned by members of the Royal Family. Crown Jewels is a specific collective noun describing the regalia worn by the United Kingdom sovereign at his or her coronation or other state functions of extreme importance.

The regalia include not only the crowns but also the scepters, orbs, rings, swords, vestments and any other miscellany involved in the ceremony.

As part of the coronation ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury pours oil from the Ampulla — a hollow gold eagle shaped vessel with a screw-on head — into the Anointing Spoon. The oil is then applied to the head, breast and palms of the sovereign being crowned.

The actual spoon is silver gilt inlaid with pearls and is said to date from the 12th century. It and the Ampulla were the only parts of the Crown Jewels not destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century.

The hallmarks on your spoons date them to Birmingham, England, in 1953, and they even include the slightly rare coronation mark.

The set, made by the firm Toye, Kenning & Spencer, was without a doubt produced as a souvenir of Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation.

This particular set appears to be unused and still in its presentation box. I don't find this surprising at all because most royal watchers and collectors since the time of Queen Victoria have preferred to keep their souvenirs as pristine as possible.

As a set of sterling coffee spoons their value is about $30. As a Queen Elizabeth coronation souvenir the set should bring closer to $100.

A Britains Coronation Coach

I’ve recently come across two boxed sets of Britains soldiers.  The box for one set is marked 9401; the second is marked 9402.  I don’t believe the soldiers, carriages and horses have ever been out of the box.  I’m a sports memorabilia collector and don’t have expertise in this area.  Can you tell me what they would sell for?

Britains Historical Series 9401 - The Coronation Coach

Britains Historical Series 9401 - The Coronation Coach

Britains figure 9401.jpg

Toy soldiers have been around ever since there were soldiers to model.  By the late 19th century, German manufacturers dominated the market with their solid lead figures but the market was soon to fall to the Britains Company.

Englishman William Britain trained and worked as a clockmaker.  Sometime in the 1880s or early 90s he branched out into toy making as the clockwork mechanics are very similar. 

According to the obituary his grandson, Dennis Britain, O.B.E, D.F.C.* his grandfather worked for years to perfect a hollow bodied soldier.  In hollow casting, molten lead is poured into a mold to form a skin.  The excess lead is then poured out leaving a hollow body behind.  By eliminated the most costly component of the figures – the lead – the Britains Company was able to sell high quality, highly detailed figures for less money than German counterparts.

By 1893 William Britain entered into contract with Gamages Department store in London to market the figures.  The company continued to expand their designs to foreign militaries, farms, Disney characters and even zoo animal.   They were adamant about authenticity and quality and soon were the leading lead soldier maker in the world.  

In the 1950s inexpensive plastic soldiers began to flood the market.  Britains forestalled some of the competition by buying the plastic manufacturer Herald in 1959.  After that date the bulk of Britains products were plastic.

Safety regulation outlawed lead solders in 1966 but by 1973 some companies – including Britains - were producing aluminum alloy soldiers.  By the early 1980s, Britains was selling their sets as “collectibles” rather than “toys” and were marketing to adults rather than children. 

You have two sets that date from the 1950s.  The first set is the 1954 issued Coronation Coach.  This set includes the coach, the figures of Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh, eight Windsor greys with four postillion riders.  The second set is the State Open Road Landau.  This set includes Elizabeth and the Duke, two coachmen and six greys with three postillion riders.  Your sets look immaculate with all of the traces, harnesses and even instructions intact!

Britains Historical Series 9402 - Open Landau

Britains Historical Series 9402 - Open Landau

With British Royal fever at its highest point since the early 80s, I’m confident that your two mint in box set of Britains figures would easily bring $300-500 at auction.

*Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Flying Cross

Smuggler's Secret in a Vienna Bronze

Q.  I enjoy your column in the Mercury News and now I have a question.  I have inherited a small figurine from dear friends who lived in East Berlin during the cold war.  They collected many things while working as intelligence officers for the U.S.  They had many great stories of that scary era and one was about this figurine.  I remember them saying it was from the mid-1800’s and spoke to a period of depression and food scarcity I think in Germany.  I would like to know more and if you could help or direct me I would very much appreciate it.  

This Vienna bronze of a well-to-do WWI era woman hides a secret

This Vienna bronze of a well-to-do WWI era woman hides a secret

A.  You have an absolutely delightful Vienna Bronze.  The term is sort of a catch all for the output of dozens of small foundries producing small works of art from the mid 19th through the mid 20th century.  Vienna bronzes are known for their exquisite attention to detail and they often have exotic, humorous or anthropomorphic shapes.

Your bronze is signed Nam Greb and is marked by a letter B in a U-shaped cartouche.  This identifies it as having come from the Franz Bergmann foundry in Vienna.  

Bergmann used the "Nam Greb" signature (Bergmann backwards) on sculptures considered erotic or risque

Bergmann used the "Nam Greb" signature (Bergmann backwards) on sculptures considered erotic or risque

Franz Xavier Bergmann (1861-1936) inherited a small foundry from his father and greatly expanded its scope of production, becoming one of the most prolific and well-known creators of bronzes in the Art Nouveau period.   The foundry was famous for its depictions of Ottoman style harems, carpet sellers and dancers:  the works exhibited superior sculpting, casting and painting.   It is not known how many artists worked in the Bergmann foundry, nor is it known which, if any, of the figures were designed by Bergmann himself. 

The foundry also produced a number of indecorous erotic sculptures.  These nymphs, satyrs, and harem girls were most often concealed within an innocent appearing figure:  a hinged skirt might lift to reveal a nude dancer underneath; a turbaned man might open his robes to reveal a sensuous woman.  Scholars tend to attribute these to Bergmann himself: conventional wisdom says that the Nam Greb signature (Bergmann spelled backwards) was a way to hide his identify.

Your figure, with a well-dressed woman hiding food under her coat, is one I’d never seen before.  Considering the time it was made – somewhere towards the beginning of the First World War – she is a politically charged figure even more taboo than the nudes.

She smuggles a sack of wheat, a string of sausages and a chicken under her coat!

She smuggles a sack of wheat, a string of sausages and a chicken under her coat!

By 1914, Vienna’s population of more than 2 million people imported more than one third of their food.  The British embargo in the autumn of 1915 resulted in food shortages and rationing.   Consumers could buy no fats on Mondays or Thursdays, no meats on Tuesdays and Fridays, and no wheat on weekends.  Your little smuggler hides a string of sausages, a chicken and a sack of wheat  - certainly a provocative and mouth-watering haul. 

I was not able to find reference material identifying her so I went a different route.  First I asked retired machinist Bob Neiderhouser if he could identify the nut bolt holding her to the base:  a modern bolt might indicate a reproduction.  Bob determined that the nut was hand made and could very well have dated to the early 20th century.   

Hand made nut points to the early 20th century

Hand made nut points to the early 20th century

I next asked Chuck Morganstern of Woodchuck Antiques in San Francisco if he had an example like your figure in his collection of Art Nouveau bronzes.  He did not but he had seen a version of this figure and was quite sure Bergmann designed it.  As Chuck said, “He’s nutty enough to do this - he signs his name backwards and probably had a screw loose.”  I was hoping that your sculpture’s scarcity and humor might put it at a higher value than most other Bergmann figures from the time but I was wrong.  Aside from his editorializing, Chuck pointed out that your figure needs restoration:  she has lost a lot of her original finish.   At auction she would sell in the $400-600 range. 

... I have a really old Bible ...

I have a regally appointed Bible published in 1873 by the American Publishing Company of New York.  It contains both Old and New Testaments, along with some 600 engravings.  The book is 13 x 10 x 4 with water stains n some, but not all of the pages.  The cover is detached and masking tape was once used for repairs.

Family Bible from 1873

Family Bible from 1873

I’m more interested in restoring this Bible than in having it appraised.  My father left it to my son and I’d like to have it restored before my son passes it to my now three-month old grandson.  Any information you have would be appreciated.


bind 029.jpg

I’ve always found that books make a home.  I’ve dragged cartons of them across country and shipped even more.  In general books are affordable, sturdy and easy to pack.  Books run the gamut from rare 1st editions to the board books we teethed on.  Many are cherished parts of a family heritage.


Historically, if a home could afford only one book that book was a Bible.  Family events such as births, deaths, weddings and christenings were recorded by hand on the inside covers; notes, locks of hair and pressed flowers were pressed in their pages.  Bibles stand as a tangible symbol of family and faith.

So, although a Bible or any other book could have been printed centuries ago, old Bibles usually have very little monetary value.  Many were inexpensive to begin with and sunlight, damp, insects and regular reading can damage bindings, covers and pages. Restoration does not make monetary sense.

But restoring a family Bible for future generations is always a fine idea.

Klaus Rotzcher, owner of Berkeley’s Pettingell Book Bindery

Klaus Rotzcher, owner of Berkeley’s Pettingell Book Bindery

I was able to visit Klaus Rotzcher, owner of Berkeley’s Pettingell Book Bindery, for insights.   His shop in Berkeley has the old world feel of a museum:  many of his tools are well over a century old and irreplaceable.  Klaus is a German University trained master bookbinder who has worked at the craft for four decades.  His hand bindings are custom, unique and will last for generations.

Klaus explained that he has 22 distinct steps to binding a book.  When restoring a binding he always aims to work with what is left of the old binding and to maintain the integrity and the esthetic of the original appearance.  He preserves as much of the old binding cover as possible; determines what approach will be right for the book; works with the owner to choose boards, end papers, covers, spines, stitching styles, and ornamentation.  He has vast selections of paper, cloth and leather as well as a collection of more than 50 printing fonts. As a master craftsman, he has the insight, experience and understanding of books that make the painstaking process of breathing life back into an heirloom possible. 

Klaus also shared some tips for protecting your books:  the weakest point of a book is where the cover meets the spine.  So as not to stress the spine, when you read a heavy book always open to the center pages and then page to where you want to read.  Don’t pull books off shelves by the spine!  Keep your books away from damp or excessive sunlight.  Protect leather bindings by occasionally wiping shoe polish or leather preservative.  A restored binding will last for generations.

The craft of hand printing and bookbinding has not changed much since Gutenberg published his moveable type Bible in the mid-15th century.   While computers, offset printers and massive presses have changed the industry of printed documents, it’s always nice to know that careful, custom craft is still available.

For more information visit:

Pettingell Book Bindery in Berkeley - www.petingellbookbindery.com

San Francisco Center for the Book - www.sfcb.org

American Bookbinders Museum in San Francisco - www.bookbindersmuseum.org

North Bennet Street School in Boston - www.nbss.edu









Rene Lalique's The Four Seasons - Condition and Completeness of Set Matters

Q.   My mother is curious about these two lamps she inherited from the estate of her great uncle.  The glass part is 7.5 inches.  He traveled widely and collected crystal, glass and china.

Can you give us any help with maker, age or value? 

A.   My first suggestion is for your mother to ask around among her cousins:  does anyone else have a similar lamp?  She is missing two from the set. Your lamps are two of a set of four statues designed in 1939 by the great French jewelry and glass entrepreneur Rene Lalique. 



Rene Lalique was born in France in 1860 and at an early age he displayed an artistic proficiency. In 1876 he was apprenticed to Louis Aucoc, one of the finest goldsmiths in Paris while in the evenings he studied at L’Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. 

By 1880, Lalique had success on his own as a jeweler designing for well-know makers and private client.  His sculptural Art Nouveau pieces combined precious metals with semi-precious stones, ivory, enamel and glass.

Renee Lalique (courtesy Musee Lalique)

Renee Lalique (courtesy Musee Lalique)

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Lalique began to experiment more and more with glass and enamel.  He patented a glass perfume bottle design in 1909; that same year, perfumer and industrialist François Coty commissioned Lalique to design bottles for his fragrances.  Using the skill, production techniques and labor innovations learned through the perfume partnership, Lalique workshops produced well over 1000 designs for architectural elements, car mascots, vases, cane handles, medallions, bookends and lighting.  

Rene Lalique designed the frosted glass “Le Quatre Saisons”  (The Four Seasons) in 1939.  Each of the figures depicts a kneeling nude holding an emblem of the season:  Spring is surrounded by small flowers; a fruit garland drapes Summer; Autumn clutches a sheaf of wheat; and Winter kneels in a batch of mistletoe.  

"Autumn" clutches a sheaf of wheat

"Autumn" clutches a sheaf of wheat

Your figures are Summer (l’Ete”) and Fall (“l’Automne).  Each is most likely signed R. Lalique, but the lamp mounting may obscure the signature.  The value depends greatly on the condition of the glass.  If the figures were drilled they loose almost all value to collectors; if they are glued to the base and can be removed without damage each statue on its own would sell for $200 to $400. Complete set with no chips, flakes or cracks sell in the $1500-2500 range. 

kneeling with grapes.JPG

Rene Lalique died in 1945 and the company passed to his son Marc.  Marc Lalique continued to expand the catalog of one of a kind and production designs.  Marc’s daughter, Marie-Claude Lalique took over the business in 1977.  She updated designs, added color, developed her own fragrance and returned to jewelry making.  In 1994 she sold the company. 

Today, Lalique produces luxury decorative items, jewelry, perfumes, furniture, and accessories.    It represents the work of contemporary artists while continuing to make versions of their signature works.  To see examples of Rene Lalique’s jewelry and glass designs visit the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.  For more information, illustrations, authentication processes and listings of fakes and reproductions, visit the independent website www.rlalique.com

"Hustler Toys for Girls and Boys" American wooden toy company, 1919-1934

Hustler "Crew" wooden pull toy with fading and paint loss

Hustler "Crew" wooden pull toy with fading and paint loss

This pull toy has been on a shelf in my grandmother’s bathroom for as long as I can remember.  I recently asked her about it but she doesn’t know anything about it except that it makes her smile.  I’m hoping you can tell me who made it and it and what it’s worth.

I like your grandmother.  The fact that this l toy makes her smile is the best reason I can think of for anyone having it!  I smiled too when I saw the picture of this four man scull.  

First of all, some rowing terminology.  A group of rowers is called a crew:  if a crew member uses one oar only he is called a sweeper; rowers who use an oar on each side are called scullers. The craft they use is called a shell.  I’ve never seen a pull toy depicting one. 

If you look closely at the front of the toy (remember, the rowers are facing the back) you’ll see a decal of what looks like a jumping jack.  This is the logo of the Hustler Toy Company of Sterling, Illinois. 

The Hustler Crew in good condition with original box can sell for $100.00

The Hustler Crew in good condition with original box can sell for $100.00

Hustler Toys grew of Franz Manufacturing.  Franz, founded in 1909, made hinges, door tracks and other hardware; they really hit their manufacturing stride in the 1920s when they patented the up and over garage door to sell to the owners of all those new automobiles.

Sometime in 1919 Franz licensed technology from another firm and produced a line of toys.  By 1925, Hustler Toys was formed as a subsidiary of Franz.  Hustler Toys incorporated metal camshafts and rocker arms to give their collection of pull and push toys animated movement.  Hustler dogs cats and horses pranced, pounced or plodded; Hustler delivery trucks dumped their loads; Hustler circus trainers made their elephants stand on hind feet.  Hustler made more than 100 models of mechanically animated wooden toys. 

Hustler did little direct to consumer marketing.  Their catalogs are geared towards wholesale and department stores.  Hustler’s 1932 catalog claimed that Hustler “Action Pull Toys have everything that it will take to sell toys this season – class – novelty – originality – popular prices.” 

Hustler specifically did not market based on gender.  Their catalogs and press releases describe  “Toys for Girls and Boys.” and insists that these toys appeal to "children and grownups alike.”  Most were priced at about one-dollar (at a time when a loaf of bread was 8 cents.)

I found a tremendous amount of information on Judith Lile and Jim Sneed’s website “Old Wood Toys.”  It is a lovingly researched and detailed compendium of toy manufacturers from the mid 19th to the mid 20th centuries.  On their website I found copies of Hustler catalogs, press releases and patents.  I also found an image of your toy and its original packaging. 

Your grandmother's four-man crew pull toy would “row” bending forward and back as the toy was pulled.   Unfortunately, it has lost a lot of its original vibrant color and crew member details.  In better condition and with the original box your Hustler Crew could sell in the $100 region.  As it is, with fading and paint loss it could bring $10-30.