Antiques & Collecting: The history of popular Nantucket baskets

Nantucket baskets have been popular purses and collectibles since the 1940s. The first baskets on Nantucket Island were made by the Wampanoag Indians, but they were not like the later Nantucket baskets.

A lightship is a substitute for a lighthouse in waters that can’t hold a lighthouse because of the depth or the rough water. The Nantucket Lightship Station was at Nantucket in 1854 and had a crew of six. They worked 30 days at a time with little to do. So, some started making baskets. The first basket was made by Capt. Charles Ray. The wooden parts were made on land, carried to the ships and used to make the woven baskets.

The government made them stop basket making while on duty in 1900, but baskets were still made on the island. Purses were made by 1900, and in the 1940s, friendship baskets were made. New ones today sell for $500 to thousands of dollars. One very rare type is the lollipop basket. The top rim has round pieces that look like little lollipops. They have had auction estimates at $40,000 to $60,000. They are very difficult to make.

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Q. I inherited several pieces of Overbeck pottery from my late mother and grandfather. They were both from Cambridge City. I lived there as a young girl, and you could see the Overbeck home from our garden. The pieces I have are mostly figurines, but I also have one painting. I am interested in selling them. Can you help?

A. The six Overbeck sisters, Ida (1861-1946), Margaret (1863-1911), Hannah (1870-1931), Harriet (1872-1951), Elizabeth (1875-1936) and Mary Frances (1878-1955), lived and worked in Cambridge City, Indiana. They grew up in a farm family — their mother knitted and made quilts and rugs, the sisters studied and taught art. In 1911, four of the sisters started a pottery studio in their home. It operated until 1955. Most of their work was painted porcelain and redware. They made matte glazes and bright colors, like robin’s egg blue, from their own secret formulas. They made teapots, tea sets, pitchers and vases influenced by Arts and Crafts and Art Deco styles. They are best known for their figurines — quirky townspeople, animals, historical figures and whimsical “grotesques.” Prices today start at about $150 for figurines; tiles sell in the hundreds, and vases can sell into the thousands. Take your pieces to an auction house or antique shop that specializes in art pottery. Overbeck pottery sells quickly.

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Q. I almost bought a strange piece of gold jewelry that had a picture of an eye and no other decoration in the frame. The antique 18th-century pin was gold with a border of pearls and blue enamel, and it was in an auction estimated at over $2,000. Why just an eye?

A. This type of pin is known as a “Lover’s Eyes.” They were exchanged by lovers and for other types of remembrance, including those lovers who had died. According to legend, or perhaps to history, it started in 1784 when the Prince of Wales fell in love at first sight with Maria Fitzherbert, a twice widowed commoner. The prince needed permission from his father to wed, so he proposed to Maria in a letter that mentioned he was sending an eye. It was a miniature of his eye painted by a famous miniaturist. She accepted the proposal. They were secretly married, and Maria later sent the prince an eye miniature for his birthday. It became a trend and similar eye jewelry was made into the 19th century. The pin was worn in a secret, unseen place, like under a coat lapel. The pins were always miniatures in watercolor on ivory, vellum or gouaches. They were covered with glass. A few were made as pendants or rings. One expert says less than 1,000 still exist. Watch out for fakes made years ago.

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Q. I have about 50 pieces of wooden dollhouse furniture that my mother had when she was a little girl. I believe it was made by Strombecker and is from about 1940. What is the value?

A. J.F. Strombeck started making tool handles and other items from discarded wood scraps in Moline, Illinois, in 1911. R.D. Becker began working with him that same year, and in 1913 the company became Strombeck-Becker Mfg. Co. The company began making wooden toys in 1922. Dollhouse furniture was first made in 1931, and the brand name for the dollhouse furniture line was Strombecker. Furniture was sold in sets for various rooms in the dollhouse. Not all pieces of furniture were marked with the brand name, but it may be possible to identify the furniture you have by comparing it to pieces in boxed sets shown online. Five boxed sets, including living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, sold at auction for $250 recently. Individual pieces sell online for a few dollars. A three-piece bathroom set sold for $25, a bed for $10. The Strombecker line of toys was sold to Dowst in 1961.

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TIP: Don’t set a hot glass dish on a wet granite countertop. The sudden temperature change might crack the glass.

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CURRENT PRICES

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Coffee pot, Pairpoint, silver plate, birds, leaves, lanterns, gourd shape, long spout, 11 x 7 inches, $45.

Bride’s basket, satin glass, blue, silver plate, Aurora, 10 inches, $80.

Map, England, title cartouche, shield, acanthus, multicolor, Robert Morden, 1695, 14 1/2 x 16 3/4 inches, $140.

Cash register, National, model 313, brass, drawer, scrolls, banners, c. 1920, 17 inches, $360.

Pate-sur-pate vase, female, nude, branches, leaves, flowers, 1800s, 16 3/4 inches, $420.

Cane, silver, monkeys, climbing, tree branch, wood, 35 x 4 inches, $625.

Disneyana, toy, Mickey Mouse, Jazz Drummer, jointed arms, Nifty Toy Co., Germany, 7 inches, $845.

Purse, minaudiere, golf, cabochons, vanity mirror, drop chain, push closure, Judith Leiber, 4 1/4 x 5 inches, $2,500.

Linen press, British colonial, mahogany, applied cornice, vines, berries, 4 sunburst paneled doors, 77 x 50 inches, $3,075.

Music box, singing bird, coffin shape, silver gilt, paw feet, bird seller, gem set, bird cages, c. 1890, German, 8 inches, $9,100.

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