December 10, 2023

Antiques & Collecting: Mysterious figure

Sometimes inventions have changed how we perform a job. They make a certain tool or decoration no longer useful, and its earlier use is forgotten.

A 5-inch-tall bisque vase shaped like a man in a political uniform was one of these mysteries in a recent auction. It could hold small flowers for a very short time, because the small opening would hold only enough water for flowers for a day.

We have seen similar small figures identified as match holders, but it could be a “whimsy,” a fanciful figure, perhaps even a joke.

We were sure it was old, and we thought the figure was a caricature of a known English politician. The style of pants, short shirt, yellow epaulets, curly hairdo and flat hat seemed proper.

Whatever it was used for, it was appealing, and with eight bids, it sold for $59 at the Conestoga auction in Pennsylvania. The value will go up if the man can be identified.

What is a 100-year-old Hohner Professional model chromatic octave harmonica worth? It’s in a red case that has “Made in Germany” printed on it.

The first harmonicas were made by hand in the 1820s. Matthias Hohner, a watchmaker in Trossingen, Germany, used machines to mass produce harmonicas. He founded his company in 1857.

The company is best known for its harmonicas and accordions, but it also made other musical instruments. By 1930 it was the world’s biggest musical instrument maker.

Hohner began making chromatic harmonicas in 1912. Depressing the button on the side of the harmonica changes the notes a half step, making it possible to play a chromatic scale. Hohner became part of KHS, a Taiwan musical instrument company, in 1987.

Hohner has made over a billion harmonicas. Most aren’t worth much, less than $50, because they are so common.

If the harmonica is a model collectors want or if there is something unusual about it, it’s in perfect condition and has the original box, it might sell for more. Take it to a music store in your area and see if someone there can give you an idea of value.

Tip: The material used to make repairs is warmer to the touch than the porcelain. Feel the surface of a figurine to tell if there are unseen repairs.

Current Prices

Dinner plate set, porcelain, neoclassical design, alternating blue scrolling swags and urns of roses, yellow border with small blue medallions, marked Royal Worcester, pattern Z698, 10 1/2 inches, 12 pieces, $375.

Toy pedal car, Fire Department, ladder truck, pressed steel, rear wooden seat and step, two ladders, bell on front hood, American, 1935-45, 20 x 50 x 16 inches, $510.

Weather vane, rooster, copper, worn gilt and verdigris surface, late 1800s, 31 1/4 x 21 inches, $625.

Terry and Kim Kovel

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