Every child has to learn the alphabet before learning to read, so some toys for those under 5 years old have been “teaching toys.”
Blocks were the first. The oldest mention of alphabet blocks was in 1693 in England. But blocks with letters and pictures were not available for most families until 1820, when large numbers of sets were made in a factory.
Well-to-do young girls educated in the 18th century learned the alphabet while sewing samplers. They had to be able to stitch identification on all the family linens when they married.
Most toys were made to teach religion, such as a carved wooden Noah’s ark, or to teach a skill such as cooking using a toy stove, pots and pans.
Toymakers created a few teaching toys, cards with letters, and cloth alphabet books. A rare, famous teaching toy is the “Alphabet Man” or “Yankee Schoolmaster.” The 10-inch-tall iron figure of a man had an arm that moved when a lever was pushed. The man blinked his eyes, raised his left arm and pointed to a hole high on his chest. A letter appeared and the student had to name it. The man is dressed like a schoolmaster and looks like a stern teacher.
No one knows who made this complicated toy that was patented in 1884. Or why his right arm is held behind his back and his index finger is pointing to the side. Several of the men have sold in the past 10 years. In March, Bertoia Auctions in New Jersey sold the toy with some missing paint for $23,600.
Q: What is Vitrock Depression glass?
A: Vitrock is an opaque glass with fired-on colors made by Hocking Glass Co. from 1934 to 1937. “Flower Rim” and “Lake Como” are Vitrock patterns. “Flower Rim” dishes were made in white and in white with fired-on colors, usually solid red or green, and have raised flowers on the rim. “Lake Como” dishes were made with a center scene of a lake and a flower border, usually in blue and white, though sugar and creamers were also made in red and white. Vitrock kitchenware, including mixing bowls, measuring cups and reamers, also were made.
Q: I have my mother’s antique satin wedding dress from 1931. It’s in perfect condition. I would like to know if it’s worth anything or if anyone would want it.
A: Yes, there is interest in old wedding dresses and gowns. You could donate it to a local historical museum or an organization that will resell it for a charitable cause. You could sell it to a vintage clothing store. Or it could be turned into something else. Old wedding dresses can be used to make christening gowns or bride or princess outfits for small children who like to play dress-up. The fabric can be repurposed to make pillows or enclosed in a locket, frame or Christmas ornament. It also can be used to make scarves, baby blankets, bassinet skirts, or wedding or baby photograph albums.
Q: My box has a floral design. It is stamped Pyro-Art Wood on the bottom. It is 14 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches and has a hinged lid. I would like to know if it has any value.
A: Pyrography is the art of putting a design on wood by burning or scorching it with a hot instrument. The art dates back to the 1400s, but it didn’t become popular in the United States until the late 1800s. By 1890, “burnt wood” articles could be seen in magazines; by 1900, companies were advertising trays, bowls, boxes, plaques, frames, steins, tie racks, small tables and other articles, many with designs already stamped on them, ready for burning. Some pieces were further enhanced with carving and/or painting. Kits containing the necessary tools for burning, carving and painting were also available for the home decorator. The most popular period was 1890 to 1915. Your box probably is a glove or sewing box and is worth about $75.
Q: I bought a set made up of an angular pitcher, two flared cups and a tray at a thrift store. It’s silver and the cups are gold inside. One piece is stamped “4Kommet” on the bottom and the other has “Kommet.” The pot is about 6 inches high, the cups are 2 1/2 inches by 2 inches, and the tray is 7 inches in diameter. Do you know when and where it was made and what it was used for?
A: The mark on your pitcher and cups is Russian and actually reads “I-OMMET,” written in English as Hommet or Jummet. The I-O indicates “jeweler,” and the first “M” stands for Mstera, a city about 185 miles east of Moscow that has been a center for Russian icon painting and other arts and crafts. “MET” indicates that it is a nonprecious metal or alloy, probably of copper and nickel and/or iron. The number in front indicates a year in the 1960s; if it was between the two M’s, it would signify a year. Mstera also is famous for lacquer papier-mache miniatures. Jewelry and metal tableware items also are made there, especially tourist items such as glass holders, salt cellars and jiggers, sold as souvenirs from the U.S.S.R. after World War II. Your set, made in the 1960s, is typical of these souvenirs. It was probably used for tea. It’s worth less than $100.
Write to Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.