Uncle Sam

For a penny, you can shake hands with this life-sized Uncle Sam to test your strength. The painted iron machine used in a fun house was made by Caille in the 1970s. It sold for $6,150 at auction.

How national symbols are chosen is often a mystery.

Uncle Sam is not our oldest symbol. There were two other figures that represented our budding country during the American Revolution. They were Yankee Doodle, the British slang name for the disheveled Colonial soldiers inspired by the song, and Brother Jonathan, a smart, rural man who was the hero in cartoons and stories from 1771 to 1783. They were pictured as tall, thin men with beards.

Legend says Uncle Sam was a nickname inspired by the initials U.S. stamped on barrels of beef for the Army during the War of 1812 to show they were government property. That led to the joke that they belonged to “Uncle Sam.” In the 1870s, Thomas Nast began depicting Uncle Sam in cartoons and posters, but the bearded figure dressed in red, white and blue didn’t became an official symbol until 1961. He is now seen on labels, machines, posters, statues and political signs.

This 6-foot-4-inch-tall iron figure is a funhouse grip tester made by Caille in the 1970s. For one cent, you can shake hands with Uncle Sam and see if you are strong. It sold at a Nye and Co. auction for $6,150. Large vintage mechanical machines like fortune tellers, postcards sellers or slot machines sell for high prices today. The better the original paint, the better the price.

Q. Does a little recipe booklet, “Omega Flour, Tested Recipes for Cakes, Pastries, and Hot Breads,” have any value? It’s 4 by 6 inches and has 24 pages. There is no date on it.

A. Omega Flour was one of the brands of flour made by H.C. Cole Milling Co. of Chester, Illinois. The company was started in 1839 by Nathan Cole. He died a year later and Hermon C. Cole, one of his sons, took over the business. The company began producing Omega Flour in 1883. It was advertised as “patent grade” flour milled exclusively from winter wheat grown in southern Illinois. Your recipe booklet was probably a giveaway or premium given out by the company. Recipe booklets like this sell for $10 to $100. Your Omega Flour recipe booklet brings a retail price of about $25.

Q. I have a chair marked S. Bent & Bros. that I picked up from a resale store. I’m just curious to know when it was made and what it might be worth.

A. The S. Bent & Brothers company was started in 1867 by Samuel Bent in Gardner, Mass., once called the “Chair Capital of the World.” The company specialized in well-made Colonial reproduction chairs and dining-room tables made mostly of maple and ash stained to resemble oak. They also made “alumni” chairs for many colleges and universities. The year 1867 was stamped on the bottom of their furniture until after World War II, when they began to attach a label with their name and 1867. Bent Bros. closed in the 1980s, was bought and reopened in the 1990s, then closed for good about 2000. You don’t say what the style of your chair is, but we’ve seen a set of six arrow-back chairs with stenciled decoration that sold for $50, a tall child’s Windsor chair with five spindles sold for $65, a pair of Windsor chairs with a cutout center splat and tail back brace for $177, and a set of four hoop-back Windsor arm chairs for $215.

Q. What is a 9-inch Buffalo Pottery Gloriana pitcher worth? The Buffalo Pottery mark is on the bottom with the number “19” on one side and “07” on the other and the word “Gloriana” below.

A. Buffalo Pottery was started by the Larkin Soap Company in 1901 to make premiums for buyers of their products. The pottery made a series of pitchers with various themes from 1905 to 1908. Gloriana, part of the Literary Series, was made in blue and white and in multicolor with gold trim. Eight pitchers were listed as premiums in Larkin catalogs. Others were evidently made for sale. Gloriana is a character in the allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, written by Edmund Spencer, and presented to Queen Elizabeth I in 1589. The character Gloriana represents the Queen. Gloriana pitchers were made in 1907 and 1908. The number on your pitcher is 1907, the year it was made. Value of your pitcher is about $75 if in perfect condition. Buffalo Pottery was more expensive in the 1990s when they sold for $200 or more.

Q. I inherited a few barber bottles from a family estate. Are there any collectors or groups I might contact for selling?

A. Barber bottles were made in many colors and shapes. A barber filled the bottles with shampoo, hair tonic, bay rum and other hair products poured from larger containers. He could identify the contents by the color and shape of the bottle. Some customers had their own personalized bottles, which were kept at the barbershop for their use. Barber bottles were used in barbershops from 1880 to the early 1900s. It became illegal to refill non-labeled bottles after the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906. The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors is online at website Fohbc.org. They list many clubs, sales and publications. There are also auctions that specialize in bottles, including American Bottle Auctions (AmericanBottle.com), Glass Works Auctions (Glswrk-Auction.com) and Heckler (HecklerAuction.com). Barber bottles are bought and sold in all of these and many other sales.

TIP: Set heavy garden urns or statues on a foundation, usually a cement block set in the ground.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column.

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