Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems: Dolls and other Cool Collectibles
(Excerpts from Tradio)

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Steve Duke:
Well, with the Internet you say I’d like a French fashion doll. You get on there, you pull it up and here are 20 of them that are for sale and you can pick and choose which one you would like for your collection. So the Internet has changed the collectible market dramatically, for the simple reason they’re much more accessible.

Like I told the other gentleman earlier, at one point in time the open-mouth dolls would bring much more money than the closed-mouth dolls. Now we find that most of the people filled in their collection with the harder-to-find dolls, which were the open-mouth and now they prefer to buy the closed-mouth dolls.

A lot of them have what we call sleepy eyes. When you laid them on their back they had a weight at the back of the eye socket and it would make the eyeball close and the lid would close. So we find that the doll market right now is depressed and, again, I have people bring these in constantly, the old dolls and things.

Believe it or not, they used to make dolls out of wax. They don’t fair real well down here in Florida. I had a woman call me. They were rather expensive because they were difficult to make. All the features were really delicate, but again, you laid them down and it got warm, now they had a flat head on them or their nose was no longer there or you played with them rough and they got scuffed up. So there are wax dolls out there and, again, they’re rare, for the simple reason that they were perishable.

A lot of people will say to me “I have these old dishes” or “I’ve got an old Bible.” I had an old Bible come in the other day or an old dictionary. They’re always amazed that these things don’t have a lot of value. “This is from 1873.”

Kenny:
Yeah, well.

Steve:
Well, the first Bible was done by Gutenberg on a movable press in the 1500s.

Kenny:
And some of those are still around.

Steve:
Not so much the full piece, but there are actually pages out there and they come up for auction. I have a page out of one of the Gutenberg Bibles.

Kenny:
Wow.

Steve:
But the reason Bibles and references books and music books and arithmetic books and things like this don’t bring a lot of money is they were passed down from family to family to family member to family member for the simple reason it was reference. They couldn’t get on an Internet. They couldn’t get on a computer back then, everything was by print. So we find that these were passed down. There are lots of them out there. People go “Well, how many Bibles could be from the 1800s?” Thousands and millions of them. That was something that was big. Family records were kept in the Bibles. This was so and so and passed down to so and so. This is all recorded in a family Bible. It’s like a huge diary.

Now, what diaries are collectible stuff from the course of 15-16-1700s? That we have what we call illumination and there wasn’t a light bulb inside these Bibles. What that means is that there was a process where a lot of these things were printed with different pictures and then they were hand colored. Usually they would take gold leaf or gold paint and paint around the particular item or if it was lettering and things like that they would illuminate, the would make brighter the particular thing that was the center of attention on that particular page.

Well, what’s happened over the years, people became collectors of illuminated items and they would cut the Bibles apart and they would take these pages out. If you happen to have a full Bible with all these illuminations of these different drawings, the paintings and things in them, this is a valuable Bible. Again, you’re talking about stuff from the 15-16-1700s. When you get into the 1800s, this is not an old Bible.

When you talk about the colonies starting, our country in the 1700s, we say go to Europe. I came back from Italy this year and it’s amazing. Here’s stuff that’s 300-400 A.D., bridges and stuff that they’re still driving automobiles on. We take for granted a 30 or 40-year-old building. It’s time to tear that baby down.

Kenny:
No way.

Steve:
People are living in 500 and 600-year-old buildings over there all over the place. That stuff was built to last.

Another thing that was a big collectible back in the early 1900s were plates. Not just to eat on, but manufacturers found that boy, you know what, if we make this stuff pretty people will put them all over the walls.

Kenny:
Oh yeah.

Steve:
And how many of us had mothers and grandmothers who you walked in the house and you looked around and thought boy, it’d be hard as heck to try and eat off of all those plates that are on the walls. Why would you put your dinner plates on the wall? Well, the manufacturers went out there and they realized if we made things that were pretty and they appeal to the women they’re going to buy them and they’re going to collect them.

So they made a lot of different patterns. Blue Willow pattern was basically a copy of a Chinese-type of pattern that was from the 1300s and 1400s. What they would do is they would color it with a blue oxide, they would fire it and the oxides would melt. You’d get a real fuzzy-looking image, but this was one of the decorating styles that they would do.

This started in China and it carried over to here because all of a sudden the blues were very popular. The English jumped on that and they did the same thing, but they did a lot of the same styles from much, much earlier periods of time and they were collectible. You could eat on them. They were glazed and you could certainly eat off of the Flow Blue dinnerware.

Kenny:
Just don’t let grandma catch you.

Steve:
Yeah, but they were collectible and the women loved them and they put them on the walls. You had Royal Vienna, which is one of the European manufacturers and they did very, very fine porcelain and they did all kinds of themes.

We talk about antiques and things; you know Greek mythology was a big theme on a lot of different things. Everything from bronzes to Greek mythology was painted on plates because, again, they were put on walls and things like that. So these were very, very collectible.

Well, then you had people like the Bradford Exchange and the Franklin Mint back in the ‘60s. They jumped in there and said you know what? People are still collecting stuff. If we package this and market it right people are going to buy these plates. They jumped in and they got different artists to do different themes: hot air balloons, animals, Rockwell with all the different little children paintings. These were all things that people collect because, again, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s collecting themes was a big type of thing.

By putting out not one plate, but a whole series and you just give us your charge card and we’re going to charge you $29.95. It comes in the official collector plate box and it’s signed by the artist on the back. Well, it was done by a printing press. So, yes, it’s a copy of the artist’s signature. He didn’t sit there and sign each one, although some of them did. I mean if they limited it to 1,000 pieces if that artist was getting paid he sat there with a sharpie and signed the back of these plates.

Kenny:
Wow.

Steve:
But what people didn’t really think about was when they say it’s a limited edition, they would limit it to 5,000 or 25,000. Well, that’s a lot. I mean it’s not a lot for the world, but for all those collectors it’s a lot. So what you have to look at, and I’ve talked about this before, is that was the primary market. The manufacturer was the primary market. You’ve purchased it from them and now you want to dispose of that piece. You have to go to the secondary market. That’s the people who might be the collectors of that. Again, the people from the ‘50s and ‘60s who were really the collectors of most of that stuff they’ve passed on or they’ve thinned out their collection where they have hundreds of these plates lying around.

I remember when I first opened my shop 30 some years ago, a fellow called me from Englewood. I drove out there and he had 210 collector plates. I just jammed every one of those plates into my car at the time. I couldn’t see out of the side mirrors, the back. I’m talking the only thing that was clear was just a spot on the windshield above the wheel. I couldn’t see out the sides, nothing.

I brought them all back. I was so proud of those. Man, I put those all over the shop and I sold probably 30 of them. When the hurricane came and wiped out my store I found about 150 of those plates still left in the original boxes and stuff.

Kenny:
That’s right.

Steve:
There’s not much of a secondary market on those at all anymore. Now, there are certain plates, again…

Kenny:
Can there be? Can those things come back in vogue years later?

Steve:
Well, again, you can try, but the age group that was really a collector for that particular thing is no longer there. Yeah, certainly there are people who still…

Kenny:
Historians.

Steve:
…enjoy pictures of cats of or pictures of endangered species of animals, like Budweiser did with a bunch of their steins.

Kenny:
Yeah.

Steve:
So could it come back? Yeah. You go on eBay and you look at what we call a secondary market and there are virtually 2,000 to 3,000 plates on that site at any one time. In a week there are probably 100 of those that get sold. So I mean there are certain people that collect different types of porcelain. They collect Lenox. They collect Gorham.

These companies jumped on the bandwagon and made collectible plates and people buy them, not so much because of what the item is, but because they’re collecting that particular type of china. So if there’s a picture that happens to be attached to that piece of Lenox or Gorham, they buy it. So, again, there are a lot of different avenues of collecting.

Not to sit there and judge people and say well, those people are stupid to buy plates, as I’ve talked about before, collectibles are individual-types of things and people do it for certain different reasons. Some people collect them because they believe it’s a hard asset. They could put their money into it and there’s going to be appreciation. These are the higher-end collectibles, the more rare. Not a limited edition-type of thing, they were manufactured.

They were used. They were broken. They were disposed of over the years. They may be made out of metal, they rusted. They may have been made out of paper, they got destroyed. If you’re looking at it for an investment, you want to go for the best items you can buy, the better quality and things that are really and truly rare. They weren’t made as a collectible to start with.

The other reason that people should enjoy their collectibles, and I’m as bad as anybody out there, when I pick it up and I look at it and I fondle it and I touch it, it makes me smile. I enjoy it. I like what it is. I like the quality. I like the idea that somebody has sat there and actually took the time to make a particular item. They put a lot of their own ideas and thoughts into that collectible and it’s something that I bought and I enjoy. So I’m not telling people don’t buy collectibles, don’t get into that market. If you enjoy it, when you look at it it makes you smile, then by all means enjoy it.

I’m just going over some of the items now that have lost a lot of their appeal to a large majority of people. So when people come in I have to crush their hopes because they have all these old things. These are some of the reasons that they don’t have the same kind of value. The decorative plates, the collector dishes, Hummel’s…

Again, Hummel’s were a big, big collectible. People come in with these little statues of people and things like that and they’ll say “I know this is a Hummel because it says Goebel on the bottom of it.” Well, what you have is a Goebel. Goebel was the company that produced these little porcelain figurines. They did dogs. They did kids. There was a monk set that they did. Not monkey, but monks. There were pictures and all kinds of different pouring items, tankards.

Hummel’s were designed by a nun whose name was Bertha Hummel. It was her idea to come up with all these cute little children performing different things, doing acts and wandering around with suitcases or feeding ducks or geese. It was a huge line and it’s still very, very popular. Again, the problem with the Hummel’s are if you’ll go on eBay you’ll see thousands of them available.

Now, what makes these more collectible? Some of the early ones have different markings on them, what we call Full B’s, which is one of the earlier marks or an impressed crown. These tell you the age without really having to sit there and study it. You can get a book and it tells you when these marks were used.

There are certain people who still collect these. They still enjoy them. The Hummel figure has had a fascination for generations, but we find that some of the older ones still do carry collector value. If you look in the book some of them will say these are $500 to $1,000. This is the book value. Well, you can get on eBay and find them for $100 to $200 and $300.

People will bring something like that in and they’ll say “How much will pay for this?” I try to pay about 20% of the book value. We try to sell them for 30 to 50% of the book value. People go “Oh, you’re crazy. I looked this up. This is $1,000 in the book.” And my reply to them is always then you know what? You need to sell that to the fellow that wrote the book.

The book value is theoretically what that is worth in a perfect world to a perfect collector if he had no other avenues of purchasing it except through certain dealers who may have had it. When you get on there and there are 2,000 and 3,000 of the same particular type of Hummel’s, all of a sudden we realize there is no shortage. It’s not a perfect world anymore for the collector. It’s a perfect world as far as getting an opportunity to buy that at a reduced rate. This is why the book value really doesn’t come into play that much on items that were mass produced.

We talked about dolls have sort of fallen by the wayside. Stamp collecting. Back in the ‘30s Roosevelt came up with the idea, you know what — he was a stamp collector — we’re going to put out all kinds of special printings and issues and he had the postmaster, James Farley at the time, come out with all kinds of special souvenir sheets and things like that.

Number one, it was a great source of revenue for the United States, for the simple reason that if someone bought a stamp they’d put it in their album and it was never used. That revenue wasn’t ever spent. It went to the post office, but no labor had to be attributed to it to make it worth three cents to mail your letter. It didn’t get mailed.

If they put out a souvenir sheet, and when I say souvenir sheet they would put out a whole set of stamps with the different parks on them and it would go from one cent to ten cents. Well, ten cents was high postage at that particular time in the ‘30s. Well, they would put out a sheet and it had all kinds of different information about the Bureau of Printing and it was put out by James Farley. The collectors would buy it for ten cents, put it in their album and they would never use it, so it was a great source of revenue.

Over the years the post office continued doing this and then they said well, there’s people that collect what we call plate block numbers. A plate block is that little number in the corner of a sheet of stamps. They’re done with different engraving plates and people would save that block of four. Well, if they used two different colors each time they would put a different color on that stamp it would have another plate number to show that it went through for each color. So then you had two numbers on it. Well, then you had to save more stamps because that took up a block of six. Then in the ‘70s they realized well, if we do a bunch of colors we have to put bigger plate numbers on it and now people have to save half of a sheet of stamps, which is again all found revenue.

So the post office jumped in and made a lot of stamp collectors back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Again, these people have sort of gone by the wayside. They found that when they went to sell their stamps that they thought had appreciated, they took them to dealers and the dealers said “You know I’ve got so much of this stuff. There’s not much of a market. I’ll pay you 70% of the face value for your stamps.” People would be “Are you crazy! I’ll keep them all.” Well, they had $3,000 or $4,000 in face value and for a dealer, what are you going to do with that, especially if you bought that much every week or three times a week or four times a week, so they used it for what we call bulk postage.

I remember my dad seeing how many stamps he could put on a letter to mail to his friends. He’d put the one-centers and the three-centers and the five- centers and he would put on the envelope “These are old rare stamps. Hold them.” I don’t know how many of his friends would come back to the shop with these pieces of letters they’d cut off. “Al told me to bring this back to you because they’re old and rare stamps.” You have to say to them well, if they’re old and rare I wouldn’t have let him mail his letters with them. So stamp collection has gone by the wayside.

Are there rare stamps out there? Of course there are rare stamps. The 1918 inverted airmail stamp is still an extremely high-valued stamp. Not what it was back in the ‘80s. Back in the ‘80s I got together with a couple fellows and we bought a block of four of those stamps. We each put in $25,000 to buy that block of four. What is that block of four worth now? It’s been sold and resold and resold and it’s in somebody’s collection.

Again, there were only 100 of these known. These stamps when they were first made there were only three blocks of four known. So, yeah, this is really rare for something. In the entire world there’s only three of them known, but again, the amount of people who collect stamps have gone by the wayside so your more common items are just not bringing what they used to.

Artwork has gone down a lot in value. People come in with different artists who were big at different times, lithographs and things like that. They’ve gone down. They just don’t have the value that they used to. Will they ever go up? Maybe, but I doubt it because, again, it wasn’t a limited-type of market.

I’m Steve Duke the owner of Westchester Gold & Diamonds telling you a little bit about the bad news on some of your collectibles, the good news on some of your other collectibles. We do buy collectibles. We buy your gold, your silver, your diamonds along with everybody else, but we’re always looking for nice collectibles.
Stop by and see us. We are in the Baer Plaza behind ABC Liquors. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is located at 4200F Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.
Call (941) 625-0666.

Westchester Gold and Diamonds provides services including custom jewelry design, repairs, appraisals and other jewelry and antiques related services. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday and by appointment at your home or bank.

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Have Questions about your antiques, estate jewelry, collectibles or old treasures?

If you have questions for Steve Duke to answer about your jewelry, antiques or collectibles, just send a photo of the item and your question directly to Steve Duke at WGDiamonds@HotMail.com and Steve will research it for you and you may be contacted to participate in an upcoming Tradio episode. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number along with your question and email it to: WGDiamonds@HotMail.com