An­tique toy school­mas­ter helped kids learn their let­ters

The Daily Herald - - HOME & GARDEN - Terry and Kim Kovel

Ev­ery child has to learn the al­pha­bet be­fore learn­ing to read, so some toys for those un­der five 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, like a carved wooden Noah’s ark, or to teach a skill like cook­ing us­ing a toy stove, pots and pans.

Toy mak­ers 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 ten years. In March 2016, 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, dec­o­rate baby blan­kets, bassinet skirts or wed­ding or baby photograph al­bums.

Q: My box has a flo­ral de­sign. It is stamped Py­roArt Wood on the bot­tom. It is 141⁄ by 71⁄ 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, and 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 six inches high, the cups are two and a half by two inches, and the tray is seven 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 Ms, it would sig­nify a year in the ‘s. Mstera also is fa­mous for lac­quer papier-mache minia­tures. Jew­elry and metal table­ware items also are made there, es­pe­cially tourist items like 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.

Tip: To re­move white rings-usu­ally made by damp glasses or hot cups of cof­fee-from wooden table­tops, rub the spot with a mix­ture of may­on­naise and tooth­paste. Wipe, then pol­ish.

Write to Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel at Kovels,


The iron man is point­ing to a let­ter of the al­pha­bet to help a child learn let­ters. The toy brought $23,600 in a 2016 spring sale.

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