January 28, 2021

Antiques & Collecting: Don’t say no to blackball box

As early as the 17th century in America, members of fraternal clubs often voted at their meetings without paper ballots. Decisions often required a simple majority, but sometimes had to be unanimous: Just one “no” vote could scuttle a project.

So, they used a blackball box instead of paper ballots. Each person was given a random number of black and white marbles. To vote no, a black marble was dropped in the box.

The box had a board that covered the voter’s hand and marble so that no one could see the vote. Each marble made a noise when it was dropped, so only one marble could be used.

When the box was opened, it was easy for everyone to see the number of black marbles and if the project, motion or request for membership had passed or failed. It was impossible to tell who had used a black marble.

The term “blackballed” is still in use, and the box was saved as part of history. The rules are still in “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a guide to parliamentary procedure, but there are few times when only one vote, not a majority, is needed.

An old blackball box used by the Odd Fellows fraternal order was sold at a Garth’s auction recently for $500.

I have a light bulb that I have identified as an 1885 Heisler-Bernstein incandescent lamp. Does it have any value? And if so, where would I find a buyer for such a bulb?

Antique and vintage light bulbs are classified as “early technology,” an area of collecting that includes electrical apparatus, astronomical devices and medical instruments. Artificial lighting is significant, since its beginning in the 1880s marked the lengthening of the workday and other changes in everyday life.

Yes, there are collectors who hunt for early incandescent light bulbs, especially early carbon filament ones from the 1880s to early 1900s with intact filaments, like yours. Some early bulbs bring high prices; a few have sold for over $5,000.

Charles Heisler and Alexander Bernstein both owned businesses in the 1880s and early 1900s that developed bulbs and lamps, and their work was influential in making electric lighting practical and popular.

Look for an auction house that specializes in early technology or scientific instruments. The website www.bulbcollector.com also has information.

Current Prices

Stoneware rolling pin, salt glazed, cobalt blue stenciled wildflowers, turned wood shaft & handles, 16 inches, $60.

Hooked rug, cat resting on striped cushion, flower & leaf border, American, 1860-1930, 30 x 52 inches, $150.

Sewing stand, walnut, oval lift top, silk pleated work compartment, removable fitted tray, England, 28 x 15 x 12 inches, $290.

Tiffany & Co. sterling silver bowl, flared & flattened rim, openwork stylized flower & leaf handles, c. 1910, 2 5/8 x 11 inches, $370.

For more collecting news, tips and resources, visit www.Kovels.com. © 2020 King Features Synd., Inc.