Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cash in the Attic

Another show I watch regularly on BBC America is Cash in the Attic, where antique experts root through the cellars and attics of a family home and find things to sell at auction to raise money for some good family cause. Most of the things they find have been in the family for such a long time that they have no idea of their value. (Or the flip side is that what they think has value doesn't.) Today I had my own little surprise. Ok, here's a test. What would you say this thing is?

A little bit of background before I give you the answer. I've been picking up odd pieces of McDade pottery over the years and this is one of the pieces I've acquired. It was offered to me back when I made the trip to take over possession of the photo albums and other family papers that had belonged to Aunt Fay. I might have passed it over, except that I had recently attended a presentation to the Bastrop County Historical Society on the subject of the McDade Pottery that was founded by my great, great-granduncle Mathew Dunkin. Among the pieces that were displayed that night was a larger version of this object. Since Aunt Fay was connected to this family line and to McDade, I figured this little piece had to be a piece of McDade pottery and I gladly adopted it.

I had guessed that this might have been some kind of fire-starter. You know, something to carry coals in from spot to spot. There is a little metal door that slides up so the coals can be inserted. But it was so small that it seemed impractical for that purpose. Whatever it was, I cleaned it up and it's been sitting in my living room ever since.

Fast forward to today. I drove out to Paige this morning to attend an antique pottery show. My purpose was not to buy more, but to see what prices were being asked for pieces similar to those in my collection. I have several jugs and crocks that have been handed down in the family and that I have bought over the years and I just wanted to get an update on market value.

Most of the pottery on display was not local McDade pottery, but was from across the state. One man in the corner, however, had a nice collection of McDade pieces and a notebook full of information on the history of the old pottery. I was going through the notebook with great interest, jotting down newspaper article dates and studying photos, when I happened to glance over at the glass case in the corner. There sat four twins to my little mystery piece, safely behind glass. A large version sat on the floor. I hunted down the seller and asked him to explain what these were.

It turns out that these were the "housewife's friend". The intention was that coals could be loaded in the bottom and then the housewife could keep her flat irons hot without heating up the whole house in the summer. The idea was that while she was using one iron, the second one would be heating up on this little warmer and she could swap them out as one would cool. The large size originally sold for $.85. I made the comment that mine was awfully little and he explained that what I had was a salesman's sample. (The toy iron shown here is from my mother's childhood.)

I was having a lot of fun talking to this fellow, when he casually remarked that he had paid $400 to $450 for each of the four examples in his cabinet and he would not sell them for less than $800. Each. My jaw dropped. Mine has been sitting on the floor, being bumped by the vacuum cleaner and battling cats. Needless to say it is being transferred to a safer place this afternoon.

When he found out that I was related to Mathew Dunkin, he pointed out 3 crocks that were genuine Dunkin work. Either Mathew or his son George had made them. He was asking $2000 each for those.

Of course the value is only what you can get someone to pay, but it's certainly nice to know that my little collection of McDade pottery is continuing to grow in value so far as the Texas pottery collector community is concerned. The ancestors are probably laughing themselves silly over the prices being asked for their ugly, mud-colored crockery.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think they are wonderful.


1 comment:

dwilcoxen said...

Excellent entry. And I have never noticed that thing; remind me to have a look when I'm there.

I would think a salesman's sample miniature would be considerably more valuable to a collector.