Monday, September 15, 2008

Cochran's Choice #2

I'm sure you have been waiting out there with bated breath for the next Cochran's Choice Blog Award, so let's proceed, shall we? Everybody take a deep breath. Hear the drumroll? The cymbal? The envelope, please...

And the second Cochran's Choice Blog Award for 2008 goes to...Rare Victorian.

Here's a blog that's part of a website by John Werry, a young, savvy antique dealer and rehabilitator who knows his Victorian furniture. John says in his bio that he only caught the bug in 2005, but he's already developed an informative blog on the subject which manages at the same time to be entertaining. Read his posts on "Manly Man's Antiques" for an example. He's not stinting on the "how-to's" either; check out his video on restoring a Merklen table that had been "shabby-chic'ed" thus obliterating its initial value.

The page has a lot of information on it, but it's well-organized, with no cutesy animations, and the typography and color choice is orderly and easy on the eye. He supports his habit with Google ads, but they don't dominate the page. A professional job.

John began by collecting Victorian furniture for his 1887 home, and delved into research "so I wouldn't get 'had' when I went shopping," as good a reason as any for beginning what some would consider a boring enterprise. I confess to an impulse to reward a young man deeply involved in a field that sometimes seems to be so heavily represented by the older generation. There's yet hope for the future of the antiques world.

Rare Victorian is interactive in three ways: You can comment on a blog post, join his forum or email him. I like that, too.

I selected Rare Victorian after reading the current post, about a "once magnificent rosewood roccoco parlor table" that had been thoughtlessly amputated to make a coffee table. The result looks a little like a graceful horse whose legs have been cut off at the knee. A sad tale, but I hope it has a happy ending, and we get to hear about it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Belated RIP for Ralph Kovel

I've been out of the loop lately and only today discovered that Ralph Kovel died on August 28 in Cleveland.

I've long considered Ralph and Terry Kovel to be my long-distance mentors on the subject of antiques and collectibles. I've referred to their website often to research various subjects, and used their antique price guides when I wrote articles back when I published an antique newspaper.

Terry wrote a farewell for Ralph on that showed more of the personal side of Ralph. He would answer collectors' questions anytime, she said. Once he took a call from Alaska at 2am.

Today, I found 523 comments on the Kovels Komments blog.

Here's a photo of Ralph and Terry, from

Looking for a Good Used Car?

We recently came across a new line of toy cars by Jada that, if nothing else, is good for a laugh, especially if the whole concept of treasured collectible toy cars strikes you as slightly absurd. Just the thing for your Trailer Trash Barbie! Which is probably not destined to be collectible, but who knows? They were discontinued after Mattel won the lawsuit. But that's another blog...

But many collectors take their toy cars very seriously. Daryl Lambert posted on his blog about "a toy VW Bus that sold for over $18,000," and added, "I looked on eBay and found a toy car that sold for $7,200, as well as many others that brought in over $4,000."

At a website called Old Classic Car an article devoted to toy cars describes what collectors seek:
Most collectors search for unrestored toy cars, as a car that still wears its original paint, tyres and so on, really has a feel of a proper old toy, something that no restored example can hope to achieve.

A few honest scars, scuffs, dings and signs of wear are signs that a toy has been played with and appreciated, or as the antique trade would call it, 'patina'.
Then there are those who prize the mint-condition, still-in-the-box examples...indeed, the presence of a mint-condition box can double a toy's value. But beware! There's even an industry involved in making reproduction toy packaging, to go with restored toys that will then be offered as "mint." Dinky and Corgi toy cars, in particular, are showing up with reproduction boxes.

There's a viable market, however, for the honestly restored toy car. I remember visiting a restoration shop in the basement of Petaluma Collective a decade ago, where funky old toy roadsters were being rehabilitated into gleaming like-new condition. These were no longer toys. They deserved a place of honor on a car enthusiast's shelf or a CEO's desk. (The restorer was using vile toxic paints and solvents, and he had developed serious respiratory problems. Quite a sacrifice for his passion.)

The website eHow suggests if you're starting a toy car collection you might hit garage sales, search eBay (which I'd be leery of doing) and studying price guides. Toymart, an online price guide, is an example.

Another article about diecast metal cars on a blog called Linked in to Cars included this great photo of a Corgi toy ambulance, with box.

A car collection can range from a pocketful of Matchbox cars to a pristinely displayed wall-full of very pricey little vehicles, each protected by its own plastic dome. Remember when Corgi came out with the Batmobile in the sixties? If you'd invested in one, put it away with its box and saved it until now, you could get $800 for it.

Chevron is apparently betting that their anthromorphized toy cars like Rudy Ragtop here, starring in their own commercials, touted at gas stations and boosted with their own website, might someday be considered valuable. Maybe not in our lifetime... Just in case, if you buy one, keep the box. Another gas company, Hess, sells toy trucks every year at Thanksgiving (obviously aimed at the Christmas market) and they're gone in a few days according to a collector whose first purchase was a Hess truck.

The earliest toy cars came from Germany and were made of the same tinplate used in making oilcans. Next came cast iron, and briefly in the 1930s, rubber, followed by plastic and metal alloy ("the white metal composed of zinc and aluminum") in the sixties. Here's an article that explains how to date a toy car, IF you still have that all-important box it came in.
If your collectible toy car just happens to still be in a box you can use ZIP Codes to determine the date it was made. 5 digit ZIP codes were first implemented by the US Post Office in 1963. In 1983 the Post Office implemented ZIP + 4. So if your collectible toy cars have a ZIP code of 5 digits, it dates between 1963 and 1983. If it has a 5 digit code followed by a 4 digit code, it dates from 1983 or later. New abbreviations for states also became prominent around 1963. Between 1943 and 1963, the largest U.S. cities used "postal zones." If your collectible toy cars have a postal zone number following the state in the address, it dates between 1943 and 1963.
Did you know that:
• Made in 1901, the first toy automobile was a sheet-steel copy of an Oldsmobile.
• A line of toy cars with working headlights was produced in the 1930s, and these are highly valued collectibles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Put on Your Walking Shoes, It's Showtime

You can count on beautiful weather just about anywhere in the West in September, and organizers of some of the most popular outdoor and indoor antique events take advantage of these lovely days...

Coming up this weekend is the Coburg Antique Fair in Coburg, OR, near Eugene. Coburg was named after Coburg, Germany, a source of quality horses, after the local blacksmith admired a particularly fine horse from there. Over 350 antique dealers from over six states bring their finest goods to the streets of downtown Coburg. You can spend the entire day, enjoying live music and noshing at the many food booths. Admission and parking are free. Shown: Coburg's name may have been inspired by a horse, but the horseless carriage has a place of honor there, too.

If you're closer to Idaho, another show is going on this weekend that you're sure to enjoy, especially if you love music as well as antiques and primitives at the Vintage Barn in Rathdrum, (near Coeur d'Alene). Saturday's show (9am-4pm) features two bands: the Northern Idaho Hat Band and the Prairie Flyer. And the 40 vendors specialize in everything rustic and primitive: cottage, farmhouse and cabin style, salvaged finds, vintage western and garden items. If all that browsing makes you hungry, there are fresh baked goods and treats.

Vintage Fashion Expo Sept 20-21, Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco. This fair has been beguiling visitors with haute couture and funky wearable finds for 20 years. Concurrent with the Frida Kahlo art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art through Sept. 28, one exhibitor is going all out with these embellished Mexican jackets, skirts and accessories dating back to the 40s.

Petaluma Antique Fair (now in its 22nd year!) Sun, Sept 28, Kentucky Street in downtown Petaluma. Shown: one of the historic ironfront buildings in downtown Petaluma provides a period backdrop over the many booths of their semi-annual antique street fair.

At Alameda Point in Alameda, the place to go the first Sunday of every month (Sept. 7) is the Antiques By The Bay fair, reportedly the largest in California with 800 booths, where everything for sale is (they promise) 20 years or older. If you're an earlybird you can be admitted here as early as 7:30am. Shown: A vendor of vintage Coca Cola and jukeboxes.

And on the second Sunday of the month (Sept. 14) the Sacramento Antique Fair takes place outdoors on 21st St. between W and X Streets.It's another one that opens early...6:30am... and there's coffee waiting for you. Shown: shoppers look over some vintage brassware.

Cochran's Choice #1

Start the drumrolls, bring on the paté and champagne, as we present our first Award to...TA DA!

This is purely an emotional reaction to one of the most alluring sites I've visited on any subject. It's presented by the owner of the European Antique Market in Louisville, KY, but it's not about sales, more about inspiration. The breathtaking music, the large-scale, light-filled photography... like opening a window into a world I've always dreamed of visiting. Uncluttered, peaceful, romantic. Makes me want to dig up my old French text and book a flight to the South of France tout suite!

I'll be posting on other favorites over the next five weeks.