Making Money on Hot Collectibles: Cowboys and The American Old West

Old West and old Cowboy collectibles are hot properties, these days. You can turn a handsome profit if you find a good vintage or antique Stetson hat, Tony Lama python boots, or old metal cowboy belt buckles in brass or silver. Original Tom Mix and Buffalo Bill posters also bring the big bucks.

One of the vintage and antique collectibles categories that still draws a crowd of willing buyers is the Old West - especially Cowboy Collectibles from the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.

These days, popular antique and vintage Western memorabilia include Stetson Cowboy hats in very good condition ($180-$250 and up, see photo), Cowboy & Rodeo metal belt buckles ($45 - $165+), boots (vintage Tony Lamas - anywhere from $15 to $400+, depending on leather hide) and Old West paper items, like postcards and photographs($10 to $50+). Impressive and expensive items are old Western handcuffs ($565), Marshal badges ($100+) and, rare items like Buffalo Bill theater and Tom Mix movie posters from the late 1800s - 1940s ($300 to many thousands).

If you come from a Western state, say Colorado where I was born, and some of your relatives were cowboys (like my Great Great Uncle, the Sheriff of Cody, Wyoming), you may have a glancing familiarity with Old West memorabilia. You may also own some items that have been passed down to you (like my 1907 cowboy postcards). Familiarity with Old West and Cowboy items will allow you to judge the authenticity of a bolo tie, a turquoise belt buckle, old whiskey bottles, signs, and all other forms of memorabilia, now popular and now selling.

If you aren't familiar, a guide book, like Cowboy Collectibles and Western Memorabilia, will offer you lots of photos and details about  items you might want to sell now, buy for re-sale, or even, collect.

Here are the collectibles that are currently selling for good prices, online at auction: Stetson Hats, Tony Lama Boots, Chaps, Gauntlets and Cuffs, Belts and Belt Buckles, Gun Rigs, Pistols, Rifles, knives, branding irons, saddles (including stirrups, lariats and saddle bags), spurs, leather goods, and tokens (especially those used at houses of pleasure). Equally coveted Old West collectibles include fancy pocket watches and original theater and movie posters(some for circuses), mentioned above. Antique photographs, including tin types, sell fairly easily these days. Most value is attached to autographed photos,such as by Buffalo Bill (William Cody).

Another area in this category, outside of my expertise, are paintings and sculpture by Charles Russell and other artists who specialized in capturing the West on canvas and in bronze. If you are lucky enough to own some of Russell's authentic works, you already possess a large investment - increasing nicely in the auction market, even these days.

As far as books go, not many about Cowboys are that highly valued these days - Antique and 1900s stories about cowboys, even the famous celebrities, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey, do not bring the prices they brought a decade ago. I am not a buyer of books in this category unless the book is either antique about a specific location or military action or heavily illustrated with real photographs. Beware of purchasing an old western cowboy book, especially Zane Grey books, as so many were published, only the very earliest in his series, have value. (I am currently selling some 1950's Zane Grey book advertising flyers; vintage advertising flyers are often worth more than the books they promote).

If you are at a flea market or a swap meet or even an estate sale, carefully examine any antique or vintage-related cowboy or old West item. Many items have been copied - and even purposefully rusted and aged. One good way to authenticate an item is to test its weight (reproductions are generally light weights) and look for markings; condition is always important. If the item seems new and shiny, pass. If you get stung by buying a reproduction, do not fret. Even collectors on Antiques Roadshow have been fooled into buying antique Remington guns that were either copies or re-tooled.

Old Western memorabilia is a highly sought-after category, but it's also a category where copies and reproductions often are more readily available than the real thing.

So buyer, be wary.

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Collecting P. K. Silesia Porcelain

P. K. Silesia porcelain pieces are nice vintage collectibles. They were made in Silesia (formerly in Germany and now in Poland) from the 1880s until World War II. But the company was first started in 1860 and its still producing ceramics today. Its vintage porcelain has a lot of antique charm.

The hardest thing about collecting P. K. Silesia ceramics ware is the name.

P. K. stands for Porzellanfabrik Koenigszelt.  Porzellanfabrik is German for “porcelain factory.”  Koenigszelt is the town near the factory’s location, in Silesia in northeastern Germany.

Even the town’s name has a complicated history.  When the railroad was extended into northeastern Germany in the 1840’s, one of the junctions ended up out in the country.  So railroad officials needed to come up with a name for that junction.  Someone suggested Koenigszelt, or “king’s tent” because he thought that Frederick the Great might have pitched his tent nearby during the Seven Years War.  That sounded good, and the railroad went with it.

A town was established near the junction, mostly to provide homes for railroad workers.  Then in 1860 an entrepreneur named Silber built a ceramics factory there, because of access to the railway and because there were clay and coal deposits nearby.  His production costs were so low that he outsold most of his competition.  The factory attracted investors, and grew quickly.

At that time the company was called Porzellanfabrik Silber and Co.  It changed hands a couple of times and ended up as Porzellanfabrik Koenigszelt, or P.K., in 1886.  The company continued to expand and did quite a bit of exporting.  By 1930 it had 1000 employees.

For a while P. K. Silesia had the sole concession to create Mickey Mouse and other Disney images in porcelain.  Hitler apparently was not a fan of Mickey Mouse, and put a stop to the arrangement.  But the factory kept up production throughout World War II.

After the war, Silesia became Polish territory and today the factory is called Zaklady Porcelany Stokowej.  It’s completely modern, of course, and produces dishwasher-safe, microwaveable kitchenware.

P. K. Silesia backstamps have changed a lot over the years, because of changes in the company name, different products, and also the change in the company’s location from Germany to Poland.  The backstamp in the picture below shows that this plate was made between 1914 and 1918.  It’s from the back of the plate in the picture above.

How much are P.K. Silesia collectibles worth?  You can find vintage serving bowls on ebay for between fifteen and twenty-five dollars.  Dinner and dessert plates go for about the same.  Their backstamps mostly indicate that they’re from around World War I. 

P. K. Silesia backstamps from the 1870’s to around World War I tend to have eagles.  For a short time in the early 1920’s backstamps had a tent, and after that many backstamps featured a crown.

P.K. Silesia vintage porcelain has a lot of antique charm.  It isn’t too hard to find, and if you’re like me you can buy pieces in thrift stores for under a dollar and get a real deal.  Then you can turn around and sell them on ebay.  But for now I like just collecting them.

Pictures by Kathleen Murphy 

Sources:    

http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=P.K.+Silesia+bowl

http://www.porcelainmarksandmore.com/silesia/koenigszelt_1/00.php

http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/antique-pk-silesia-hnd-pntd-porcelain-cake-set-7

 

 

 

Ten Valuable Old Historical Newspapers

Valuable old historical newspapers include Dewey Defeats Truman, the Pearl Harbor attack, Al Capone, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the John F. Kennedy assassination, the sinking of the Titanic, the Lincoln assassination and the San Francisco earthquake.

Old newspapers have value in the collectibles marketplace. Attracting the greatest attention are the vintage papers with the big historical headlines. Also of interest are your regular newspapers – called "atmosphere" papers – which contain no significant events of the day but do provide a glimpse into a bygone era.

Here are ten valuable newspapers featuring some of history's most famous headlines. They are an eclectic bunch, giving readers a general idea as to collectibility and values. Bear in mind that condition plays a major role in determining value and that newspapers must be original, and not reprints.  

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 3, 1948, Dewey Defeats Truman

The 1948 presidential election, as predicted by opinion polls, projected Thomas A. Dewey the victor. During the wee hours of the night on November 2, 1948, after voting had ceased, the Chicago Daily Tribune rushed this famous headline into print in the midst of a typesetter's strike. Later, after realizing their error, the Trib sent its employees out into the streets to retrieve as many copies as possible. The Tribune was not the only newspaper to get it wrong – just the most infamous – with President Harry S. Truman gleefully posing with the paper's embarrassing "Dewey Defeats Truman" banner headline. In excellent condition, one surviving example of this paper – bearing the stamp "Hickey Brothers Cigar Store" where it was sold – brought a top bid of $1,392.

Chicago Daily Tribune, Dewey Defeats Truman $1,392 - Robert Edward Auctions, LLC

The Stars and Stripes, May 8, 1945, Nazis Quit

The Stars and Stripes serves as the unofficial publication for the U.S. Armed Forces. An EXTRA for the European Theater of Operations, Germany edition, dated May 8, 1945, announcing Nazi Germany's official surrender is valued at approximately $215.

The New York Herald, April 15, 1865, Assassination of President Lincoln

Lincoln assassination newspapers are always in demand. One of the most famous is the April 15, 1865, edition of The New York Herald reporting on the death of the 16th President of the United States. Not surprisingly, this edition was saved by many people. Today, it carries a value of over $1,000 in excellent condition.

The New York Herald, Lincoln assassinated $1,000+ - historybuff.com

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 7, 1941, War! Oahu Bombed By Japanese Planes

One of the most famous newspapers of World War II, the first extra of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin of December 7, 1941, reports the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor. A complete edition in excellent condition could top the $1,500 mark. Reprints abound for this coveted issue, including ones made during the war and taken home as souvenirs by American servicemen.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor $750-1,500 - gohawaii.about.com

The Boston Daily Globe, April 16, 1912, Titanic Sinks, 1500 Die

In the annals of maritime disasters the loss of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York heads the tragic list. A number of Titanic newspapers were printed, with the first report editions carrying the most value. The April 16, 1912, edition of The Boston Daily Globe is worth approximately $200-400.

The Call-Chronicle-Examiner, April 19, 1906, Earthquake And Fire: San Francisco In Ruins

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 remains one of the worst natural disasters in American history. The San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner – a collective effort by the city's three wounded newspapers – dated April 19, 1906, is a rare periodical. A complete edition could sell for over $700.

The Call-Chronicle-Examiner, San Francisco earthquake $700+ - Library of Congress

The Dallas Times Herald, November 22, 1963, JFK Ambushed in Dallas, President Dead, Connally Shot

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been called the crime of the century. JFK assassination newspapers are legion, as they were saved by many people as historical keepsakes. The most valuable editions are titles from Dallas, Texas, the scene of the crime in infamous Dealey Plaza. The Dallas Times Herald final edition of November 22, 1963, is highly collectible, with a complete edition in excellent or better condition valued at $50-75.

Fitchburg Sentinel, May 21, 1927, Lindbergh Is Reported Over Channel

Aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight in 1927 is the stuff of legend. The Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel of May 21, 1927, reported that Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis had been sighted over the English Channel, bound for Paris. This ten-page edition is worth approximately $140.

The Macon Telegraph and News, October 16, 1931, Al Capone Guilty of Evading Taxes

In 1931 Al Capone, the czar of the Chicago underworld, was convicted of income tax evasion. Capone received an 11-year sentence, eventually winding up on Alcatraz. The Macon (Georgia) Telegraph and News of October 16, 1931, headlined Capone's stunning conviction in federal court. This edition carries a value of over $100. 

New York Daily Mirror, February 14, 1935, Guilty Death For Hauptmann

The Lindbergh baby kidnapping horrified the country during the Depression-era 1930s. Bruno Hauptmann was later convicted of kidnapping and murdering Charles Augustus Lindbergh II, the 20-month-old son of aviators Charles A. Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Hauptmann got the death penalty for his crime, dying in New Jersey's electric chair a.k.a. "Old Smokey" on April 3, 1936. The New York Daily Mirror of February 14, 1935, reported Hauptmann's conviction with the bold headline "Guilty Death for Hauptmann." This edition is valued at around $60 today.

New York Daily Mirror 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping conviction $60. Also pictured is the New York Journal, February 13, 1935 - Heritage Auctions

Literally hundreds of thousands of collectible newspapers await both the collector and history buff. It's all there in black and white – wars, assassinations, moon landings, crime and punishment, sports, medicine and you name it...

Top Image

  • The New York Times, May 8, 1915, the Lusitania sinking $100+ - The New York Times

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

How to Tell If a Chair is an Antique

How to date an antique chair. Learn how to tell is a chair is actually an antique chair.

You are at a garage sale and you see a chair you love. It’s old, a bit rickety and costs $25. While $25 may seem steep for a garage sale chair, what if it is an antique? What if it is worth five times $25? How will you know?

There are some simple steps you can follow to date your antique chair.

Examine the chair for carved or burnt-in dates and marks. If you happen to have a Blackberry or an iPhone with you…Google any signature or manufacture’s brand you see. If a chair numbered on the underside of the seat it was most likely made in or after the 19th Century. You can use the number you find and your Blackberry or iPhone to search the Patent Office to discover the manufacturer and date of production. You won’t get an exact year, but rather the years in which that particular piece was produced. This will help you narrow in on the chair’s actual production date.

Notice how the chair is put together. The older the screw or nail, the cruder it will be. Old nails will be square. If you find square nails, but not perfectly square, and they are worn down with age, the chair probably dates before 1820. Screws that date from 1720 to 1860 are short with hand-cut threads and a slot that is not centered. The end of these screws are flat. The chair may be put together without any nails and screws at all. This is a sign of quality. If the chair is really old it will be jointed with no nails or screws.

Flip the chair upside down and find an unfinished spot. What does the grain of the wood look like? You are looking for aged wood and aged lines. Wood wears over time. Carvings and edges become less sharp and nicks appear on corners and edges with age – these are signs of antiquity.

You are also looking for solid pieces of wood. Older furniture was constructed from solid pieces of wood. Antique chairs will not necessarily be level or have even lines. Hand made and hand-carved furniture is not machine perfect, but has the character of time and individuality. Know that before 1700 most furniture was made out of oak – after that all hardwoods, such as cherry, walnut, pine and mahogany were widely used. The type of wood is less an indicator than how aged the wood looks.

Look for tool marks. The scratches, grooves and saw-marks of new furniture are parallel or sanded away. If the cuts are curved the chair probably dates after 1860; before that all wood was cut by hand and the marks are uneven – these uneven tool marks are a good indication that the chair is an antique. Additionally, the cuts may not be completely straight and there may be gaps in the wood. These cuts and gaps are also indications of age and should not be looked at as defects.

 If your goal is to search for antiques, invest in books about period pieces...know the difference between American Colonial, Victorian and other antique period pieces.  Become an expert and you can purchase antique chairs with confidence.

Billy Beer Can Collectibles

Billy Beer was introduced in 1977 by Falls City Brewing Company of Louisville, Kentucky. Also distributed by Pearl Brewing, West End Brewing and Cold Spring Brewing, Billy Beer garners its name from Billy Carter, the late brother of former President Jimmy Carter. Billy Beer cans are not rare today but do command some value and remain an enduring urban legend in collecting circles.

Billy Beer first came on the scene in 1977. It garners its name from the late Billy Carter (1937-1988), the younger, hard-drinking brother of then-President Jimmy Carter. Billy Beer was on the scene briefly, but has acquired its own unique place in urban legend and collectible breweriana circles.

Billy Carter: President Jimmy Carter's Brother 

Former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States in November 1976, narrowly defeating Republican incumbent Gerald R. Ford. With the election of Carter – who hailed from the small town of Plains, Georgia – the media/public focus became even more intense on Carter's family. That attention eventually led to the President's younger brother, William Alton "Billy" Carter III, one of the more colorful members of the prez's brood.

An ex-marine who served four years in the Corps, Billy worked in the family peanut business and also went on to famously operate a service station in Plains, Georgia. Billy, who with wife Sybil (Spires) Carter had six children, first vaulted into the spotlight during his brother's 1976 presidential campaign. Known as a hard-drinking, beer-guzzling good ol' Southern boy, Billy often "campaigned" in bars and taverns, putting in the good word for his brother, the Democratic nominee for President. In one famous incident an obviously intoxicated Billy unzipped his fly and urinated on an airport runway with the press duly recording his faux pas. Well, when you have to go, you have to go...

Billy Carter also made trouble for his brother the President, famously visiting Libya on three separate occasions in 1978-79. He was reportedly given a loan of $220,000 by the Muammar Gaddafi regime, with former renegade CIA officer Edwin P. Wilson later alleging that Billy received $2 million from Libya. Billy's behavior eventually led to President Carter declaring that his brother's foreign activities in no way influenced his thinking or American policy.

Billy Carter, who later quit drinking and did a stint at the Betty Ford Center for treatment of his alcoholism, died of pancreatic cancer at age 51 in Plains, Georgia, on September 25, 1988. 

Billy Carter on the cover of Time magazine, August 4, 1980 - Time-Life, Inc.

Billy Beer Debuts in 1977

Carter fever was at a pitch in 1977, with even Hollywood getting into the act with an ABC sitcom titled Carter Country (1977-79) starring Victor French as Roy Mobey, the police chief of the fictional southern town of Clinton Corners. In July of 1977, good ol' boy Billy Carter once again made headlines, this time as the official spokesman for a new brand of suds called Billy Beer. 

Although a confirmed Pabst Blue Ribbon man, Billy Carter willingly lent his name to Billy Beer for the good times, publicity and a share of the profits – $50,000 a year according to one source. The blue and orange aluminum can said it all: "Brewed expressly for and with the personal approval of one of America's all-time great beer drinkers – Billy Carter. I had this beer brewed up just for me. I think it's the best I ever tasted. And I've tasted a lot. I think you'll like it, too."

Billy Beer was made by four different brewers: Falls City Brewing Company of Louisville, Kentucky; West End Brewing Company of Utica, New York; Pearl Brewing Company of San Antonio, Texas; Cold Spring Brewing Company, Cold Spring, Minnesota. A fairly good seller in the beginning, Billy Beer was discontinued in 1978 because of declining sales. 

Billy Beer: Collectible Cans

Billy Beer's famous novelty run from 1977 to 1978 produced some two billion beer cans by one estimate, with some nine million unfilled Billy Beer cans melted down by Reynolds Metals for the aluminum scrap value. When Billy Beer ceased production in the late 1970s, America was awash in Billy Beer cans. Many people, sensing a great collectible down the road, hoarded unopened cans, six-packs and entire cases, stashing them in basements, garages and attics for some future bonanza. 

Billy Beer really came to the forefront as a collectible in the early 1980s when a man took out ads in a Chicago newspaper offering unopened Billy Beer six-packs for sale. The price: $1,000. The fast-buck entrepreneur then ran additional ads, offering his six-packs for the "bargain rate" of only $200. That apparently opened the floodgates, as offers for Billy Beer saturated newspapers and collectible publications, with everyone and their brother hell-bent on cashing in on their Billy Beer cans at some outrageous price.

Billy Beer can from Falls City Brewing Company 1977 - falstaffbrewing.com

Billy Beer Cans: Rarity & Values

Billy Beer cans – whether opened or unopened – are not rare by any means. They're your basic novelty beer cans, produced and saved in great quantity with supply far outstripping demand. That, however, doesn't mean that they don't possess any value. A collector in need of a Billy Beer can today may pay anywhere from 25 cents to $10 for a specimen, depending on condition. 

Occasionally at auction, Billy Beer cans have been known to bring out the beast in some bidders who still subscribe to the urban legend that they're truly bidding on something rare. In a famous November 20, 2010, episode of the Discovery Channel's Auction Kings, a seller named Robert brought in an unopened case of Billy Beer at Gallery 63, located just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, hoping to get enough money to take his wife out for dinner. Owner Paul Brown brought in a beweriana expert, who pronounced the case "worthless," claiming that the only value it held was in the recyclable aluminum. The gallery's resident picker Jon Hammond begged to differ, however, betting office manager Cindy Shook that the unopened case would sell for at least $100. Come auction day the case of Billy Beer in its original corrugated box attracted spirited bidding, with a man sporting a British accent who owned ten restaurants in Atlanta taking home the unopened case for $100, which he considered a bargain and probably a tax write-off as well. Hammond won the bet: a free dinner courtesy of doubting Thomas Shook. 

According to many beer drinkers of the era, Billy Beer wasn't a particularly good brew. In fact, Billy Carter himself – the beer's supposed number one fan – often admitted to reporters that he still drank Pabst Blue Ribbon behind closed doors. Jimmy Carter later joked that Billy Beer was the principal reason his famous brother gave up drinking.

Got Billy Beer?

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Collecting Apollo 11 Moon Landing Souvenirs 40 Years Later: What to Buy Now

which Apollo Moon landing collectibles to buy

On July 20th, we will celebrate the 41st Anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon. Oh, what a high time for America!  Not only did we win this race for space by landing the first men on the moon, but our Country was unified and cohesive. We collectively held our breath until the Astronauts returned home safely and then we whooped and hollered at their bravery and our historic achievement.  The manned moon landing became one of the all-time milestones of the 20th Century. There is now increasing demand for souvenirs and mementos from 40 years ago. This is another collectible investment area worth pursuing - items to keep or to re-sell.

There is no better time than now to scout for Apollo 11 ephemera (various collectibles). Many authentic Apollo 11 collectibles are now priced ridiculously low (due to economic woes). Also, every time a significant anniversary approaches, sellers make their items available, hoping to profit on enhanced interest. I am not a Jonnie Sue-come-lately when it comes to Apollo 11. I have been collecting moon-landing items for 40 years, scooping up an item when I see it (but only at a low price).

My collection includes a valuable UPI bulletin announcement, from the UPI ticker tape went Apollo 11 took off from the moon (I worked as a reporter at UPI at the time) and 1969 newspapers and various vintage magazines reporting the Moon Landing details. One of my best treasure-hunting finds was a notebook full of original photographs from the Apollo 11 Mission (shown below). I found 20 of the photos in a plain black notebook, buried under a pile of school notebooks at a local thrift store.  I had the photos authenticated as original (NOT part of the NASA set, but likely from someone associated with the ground control), and I sold off some of them several years ago. I've kept a dozen more to hand down, as I believe their value will grow. Also, I think the photos I saved are awesome; irreplaceable.

My photo notebook was a rare acquisition (one of the more memorable) that would be hard to duplicate, but you can still find numerous other Apollo 11 items worth your time and money. These items include:

1. Authentic Commemorative coins and tokens celebrating the original manned moon landing and its subsequent annual anniversaries. They were composed of copper, bronze and silver metal (the more valuable tokens were actually crafted from parts of original rockets).  I saw some of these in the "sold" column on eBay. As I mentioned in another FZ article, coins and tokens have good investment value  - here's a doublette for you (two reasons to collect tokens).  Apollo 11 tokens are selling now in the $8-$40 range. I see them going up, over time.

2. Stamps. I know little about stamps, but first-day covers of the Moon Landing also have a life of their own. This collectible category is also a doublette (space collectible/stamp collectible), Apollo landing covers seem to be selling well on the internet sites I checked. Again,  authentic stamps and covers are likely to increase in value.

3. Newspapers. These should be in good condition. In the old days, the bigger the headline type, the more important the story. Since newspapers are "folding", right and left, collecting printed history, as an investment, can also only increase in value. Newspapers were so often thrown away, and a good 1969 Apollo 11 newspaper is worth many times face value.  If I saw a 1969 newspaper about the Moon landing, at a reasonable price, I'd buy it. As newspapers continue to fall, these prices will rise.

4. Magazines. It follows that original magazines, like those shown in my collection below, also will have increasing value, especially as more magazines become extinct (Ah, Domino, Gourmet...). If you can find them for little cost, I'd be a buyer here too, especially if I was building a collection.

5. Pins, pens, maps, mugs, glasses & other souvenir items. Here are some lesser collectibles in terms of value, but maybe not in terms of scarcity. If you collect vintage pin-backs (political, rock n roll or otherwise), Apollo Moon Landing pins might be a great addition to your collection. Same goes for writing pens.

6. Careful, careful on the signed and autographed items and some of the other more valuable. I've seen signatures listed at hundreds of dollars, but I'd want indisputable confirmation of any astronaut's autograph. Many items were auto-pen-signed; this is generally disclosed (but not always). As with all buying activities, check and double-check the reputation and integrity of the seller before you spend.

7. Expect to see more Apollo 11 Moon Landing items up for sale the closer we get to July 20. If you have some spare change, consider spending some of it on some of the items listed for bargain prices now on the internet. It is not impossible, but highly unlikely you'll run into many of the items named above at yard sales or flea markets - unless it's a very big flea market (like the one in Long Beach, CA).

8. Finally, if you weren't born before 1969, ask you parents or older friends and relatives just how exciting this year was. While you're asking, it's perfectly good etiquette to inquire if, by any chance, they have kept some newspapers, magazines or souvenirs from Apollo 11's Moon Landing. They just might surprise you with a pile of awesome Moon Landing goods. And then you will have your very own collection.

             !

For further information, consult your friendly search engine for "Apollo 11 Moon Landing collectibles."

Ten Valuable The Man from UNCLE TV Collectibles

Valuable The Man from UNCLE TV collectibles include Gilbert action figures, Aurora Napoleon Solo plastic kits, Illya Kuryakin secret lighter guns, movie posters and lobby cards, card games, lunchboxes and thermoses and toy gun sets.

The Man from UNCLE ran on NBC-TV from 1964-68. Starring Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin) and Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Alexander Waverly), The Man from UNCLE – an acronym for the Untied Network Command for Law and Enforcement – produced 105 episodes and an array of official UNCLE merchandise.

Here are ten valuable "The Man from UNCLE" TV collectibles that are sure to excite UNCLE spy fans and classic television memorabilia buffs. Open Channel D!

The Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Gilbert Action Figure

Handsome David McCallum – often attired in his trademark black turtleneck shirt – had quite a following as Illya Kuryakin, Napoleon Solo's Russian partner. A 1965 Illya Kuryakin action figure made by A.C. Gilbert in mint condition with original box sold at auction for $145.48.

Illya Kuryakin 1965 Gilbert action figure with accessories and box $145.48 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Badge Store Display Card

Lone Star produced The Man from UNCLE badges in 1965 for use with their UNCLE cap pistol. An original store display in fine condition brought $168.37 at auction.

The Man from UNCLE 1965 badge store display card $168.37 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Pinback Button

Button-World of Brooklyn, New York, produced black-and-white The Man from UNCLE buttons in 1965 for both Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. A mint Illya example sold at auction for $74.75.

The Man from UNCLE Napoleon Solo Toy Gun Set

One of the big UNCLE toy items is The Man from UNCLE Napoleon Solo gun set, made by Ideal in 1965. A mint-in-the-box example could top the $700 mark.

The Man from UNCLE Napoleon Solo 1965 gun set $500-750 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Napoleon Solo Aurora Model Kit

Aurora Plastics made model kits for both Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. A still sealed mint-in-the-box unassembled Napoleon Solo version is valued at $300-500.

Napoleon Solo 1966 Aurora model kit $300-500 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Card Game

Milton Bradley produced The Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Card Game in 1966 as game #4662. One example in excellent condition sold for $75.

Illya Kuryakin 1966 Milton Bradley card game $75 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Special Secret Lighter Gun

Ideal produced the fantastic UNCLE Illya Kuryakin Special Lighter Gun in 1966. It looks like a cigarette case/lighter, but in reality houses a secret cap-firing gun and radio compartment. A mint example in its original box fetched a top bid of $760.44 at auction.

Illya Kuryakin 1966 secret lighter gun and radio $760.44 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Man from UNCLE Lunch Box and Thermos

King-Seeley produced the highly coveted The Man from UNCLE lunch box and thermos in 1966 which carry artwork by Jack Davis. One example which managed to survive the rigors of childhood in excellent to near mint condition with an original thermos, advertising booklet also in the mix sold at auction for $330.63.

The Man from UNCLE 1966 lunch box and thermos picturing both sides $330.63 - Hake's Americana & Collectibles

The Spy in the Green Hat 1966 Belgian Movie Poster

Several two-part The Man from UNCLE episodes were edited into feature length movies which found their way into theaters under new titles. A folded fine/very fine Belgian poster (14x21-inches) for The Spy in the Green Hat (1966) brought a bargain $10 at auction.

The Spy in the Green Hat 1966 Belgian poster $10 - Heritage Auction Galleries

One of Our Spies Is Missing 1966 Lobby Card Set

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum swing into action in One of Our Spies Is Missing, released to movie theaters in 1966 by MGM. A complete set of eight international lobby cards (11x14-inches) in very fine condition sold at auction for $24.

One of Our Spies Is Missing 1966 lobby card set $24 - Heritage Auction Galleries

The Man from UNCLE Credits & Top Image

  • Auction and sales results courtesy Hake's Americana & Collectibles, York, Pennsylvania, and Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: David McCallum, left, and Robert Vaughn in One Spy Too Many 1966 lobby card, one of eight in the set. Auction result for set in very fine+ condition: $21 - Heritage Auction Galleries

Making Money on Hot Collectibles: Vintage Cigarette Items

Look for one of today's hottest collectibles: older, unopened cigarette packs.

As a longtime collector and dealer in antique and vintage items, I often use my psychic radar to predict what I believe will sell now - or in the immediate future. A while back, I suggested making money on money collectibles - old currencies, tokens, and outdated forms of money seemed to be selling like hotcakes on auction sites (actually selling quite a bit better than hotcakes). I took my own advice and made more than a pretty penny on some antique tokens and coins.  Today, I'm recommending making money on vintage and older cigarette items - particularly cigarette packs, cigarette lighters and cigarette trading cards.

On the SY hot collectibles meter, they are a #3 (meter ranges from 1-5) and climbing! The key to making money on collectibles is to anticipate where the market is going so you can buy now at bargain prices and sell for a profit as the market goes up. For vintage cigarette items, the market is just beginning to light up.  Not only can you make some good change now and in the near future on cigarette items, you can also turn the tables, at least an inch or two, on the greedy tobacco companies that made so much money on us.  If that isn't fun, I don't know what is (as Kurt Vonnegut might have said).

Setting aside how you may feel about cigarettes is primo. If you're ok with trading in them, go for the gusto and keep your eyes open for the vintage cigarette packs (preferably 1920s-60s), for the beautifully decorated Art Deco cigarette cases, for the advertising and novelty vintage cigarette lighters and for the more valuable trading cards that were once promotional items when inserted in cigarette packages. Maybe your Great Uncle Joe has a stack of old Camels he never smoked (worth money now; maybe $7-$20 per pack and up).

Maybe he also had an old lighter, advertising Coca Cola or a Chevrolet ($30 and up).  Maybe your Grandma collected cigarette trading cards featuring 1920-40s movies stars (worth money now; maybe $5 per card and up, depending on the film star).  Tobacciana (as it is called) is a big collectible niche - including everything from those items named above to cigarette holders, pipes and ashtrays. Currently, I see the market as bullish for old cigarette packs (especially those long out of business, and even those popular in the Mid-Century). There's also a decent demand for vintage figural lighters (shaped like guns or even old cigarette machines).

There's also interest in promotional items for popular brands, like GM or Coke. Some people are still treasure hunting for the rarest cigarette cards (a Honus Wagner card, known as The Holy Grail of cigarette trading cards, sold for more than $1 million on eBay a while back). Trading cards must be hard-to-find and in good condition; either sports or entertainer-related, or you must find a quantity of them to make a worthwhile sale.

Perhaps it's because smoking cigarettes is so unhealthy and politically incorrect or maybe it's because state governments are either heavily taxing them now or soon will be, but vintage cigarette items are selling well.  All health and morality issues aside, and speaking only from the collector's perspective, if you can find old packs of cigarettes (intact), you've just cashed (or will soon).

And nobody gives a fig about smoking the old things; they just want the intact package as it was back then. Some people make tobacciana their specialty; others collect for the wonderful, colorful, old-school art graphics on the trading cards or the packages. There are several types of buyers for vintage cigarette items; that's what you want in a collectible item: More demand, less supply.

Here's a list of some of the more valuable, oldest (pre-1920s) cigarette packs to look for: Sweet Caporal, HomeRun, Sunshine, Coupon, Murad, Mogul, Pall Mall, Chesterfield, Fatima and Cravens

The 1920s and later, Depression era and Mid-Century  brands that can still bring you cash: Camel, Old Gold, Lucky Strike, Herbert Tareyton, Spud, One-Eleven, Wings, Picayune, Barking Dog, Airline, Listerine, Twenty Grand, Turf, Rum and Maple, Marvels, Coffee-tone, Philip Morris, Raleigh, Wings. A little later, and more retro - Virginia Slims (you've come a long way, baby), More, Benson & Hedges. The average price for a vintage or antique cigarette pack, in good, unopened condition, goes for $7 and up and up), depending on the condition and  the rarity. Of course, if you land an unopened vintage carton, you're in the chips! (possibly $100 and up).

If you want to branch out to cigarette trading cards - or maybe even start there - this also is a desirable collectible area. Originating in the late 1870s in the U.S. and Canada, cigarette trading cards were introduced as promotional items, known as "enticements." One small card per pack (approx. 1.5" x 2.5"), look for Joe Lewis and Jack Dempsey to actors to first-aid tips.

The sets generally consisted of 25-50 in a series, although some reached to 100. Turf cigarettes featured as series of 1930-40s  film stars (my Ida Lupino Turf trading card watches over my desk), but there were also a series of birds, roses, baseball players, Indian chiefs, famous soldiers, trees and airplanes (I have a large set  of airplane trading cards from Wings cigarettes that I got from a junk store 20 years ago.  I'm thinking about framing them).

Notable cigarette cards: If you find another Honus Wagner card (there were maybe 50-200 published before he demanded they be withdrawn) forget about ever needing to work again; you can buy the company, if you want still want to. You will need to search out the American Tobacco Company's T206 set. And I wish you good luck with that.  If you can't find Honus, some of the rarest cards are those known as "Clown and Circus Artistes" from Taddy. You are much more likely to find other less valuable, but worthy trading cards at a flea market, swap meet or junk store - not at the antique mall. 

Antique dealers will have researched them and marked them way up before you even get a chance to treasure hunt for them. But flea markets and swap meets are often a treasure trove of trash that really isn't. You just have to dig through the stuff to uncover what you're looking for.

Other tobacco collectibles worth treasure hunting for: ashtrays (especially vintage ashtrays from famous clubs, like 21 or restaurants like The Brown Derby); vintage lighters (there are some great stainless steel figurine lighters worth collecting: I sold one shaped like a 1930s airplane), but the novelty lighters are also fun to find and sell: pin-ups or advertising promos from the Mid Century. If you find an old GM or Chrysler car advertising lighter, sell! And, finally: matches.

I recently sold a batch of 5 OLD GM matches (more valuable now because of GM's current problems and changes). I have a big bag of old match books, which I collected mainly for the graphics - but with all the companies going out of business, some of these match books have grown in value since I snagged them at an estate sale. Matches (only those in very good condition, without striker damage) are easy to find at flea markets and swap meets. You won't make a mint off them, but depending on what you find, you can make some fast cash.

Finally-finally, if you are looking for a place to sell your cigarette packs, trading cards, ashtrays, lighters or matches, try eBay, Bonanzle (free to list, easy to use, and friendly) or even Etsy. If you have some time on your hands and a flea market or swap meet close by, you can get started making a little pocket money by looking for cigarette collectibles. Despite the rough economy, there seems to be a thriving collectibles market for tobacco products and for certain collectible niches overall, although  buyers are pickier and looking for bargains. It's a buyers' market now, but that's no reason not to sell the "hot" stuff.

 Resources: Personal experience, Good-bye to All That book (1970), eBay, internet references.

06.09.09

Ten Valuable Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Collectibles

Valuable Pittsburgh Pirates sports memorabilia includes player jerseys, championship pins and pocket mirrors, Bill Mazeroski baseball cards, Forbes Field ticket stubs, 1910 Tip Top bread card sets, souvenir pennants and Roberto Clemente signed baseballs.

The Pittsburgh Pirates can trace their origins back to 1882, when they simply played under the city name of Allegheny. The franchise evolved into the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Pittsburgh Innocents and eventually Pittsburgh Pirates, an unofficial moniker they claimed for the 1891 baseball season. The nickname "Pirates" would not make its way onto the team's uniforms until 1912. The Pirates have captured nine National League pennants (1901, 1902, 1903, 1909, 1925, 1927, 1960, 1971, 1979) and four World Series titles (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979).

Here are ten valuable Pittsburgh Pirates baseball collectibles that are sure to interest sports memorabilia buffs. Now returning to historic Forbes Field – the Pittsburgh Pirates...

Pittsburgh Pirates 1902 National League Champions Pinback Button

The Pirates blew away the competition in 1902, finishing with a record of 103-36, 27 1/2 games ahead of the second place Brooklyn Dodgers. Unfortunately, there was no World Series yet – that would come in 1903. A rare celluloid pinback button picturing the 1902 NL champs Pittsburgh Pirates in near mint/mint condition brought $1,840 at auction.

Pittsburgh Pirates 1902 NL champs pin $1,840

Pittsburgh Pirates 1925 Cameo Theatre Advertising Card

The Cameo Theatre, located at Fifth Avenue, Downtown in Pittsburgh, issued a 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series team advertising card featuring such future Hall of Famers as Kiki Cuyler, Fred Clarke and Pie Traynor. The reverse side reads: "Two Great Events in Pittsburgh, The World Series, Pittsburgh versus Washington and The First Exclusive Showing of The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney." This Cameo Theatre grand opening card in excellent condition sold at auction for $928. And yes, the Pirates took the World Series that year, beating the Washington Senators four games to three.

Pittsburgh Pirates 1925 advertising card $928 

Pittsburgh Pirates 1901 Team Cabinet Photo

Vintage cabinet photos are highly prized by collectors. A 1901 cabinet photo featuring the National League champion Pirates – Honus Wagner, Chief Zimmer, Fred Clarke, Jack Chesbro, Ginger Beaumont, Jesse Tannehill, et al., – fetched $2,233 at auction.

Pittsburgh Pirates 1901 cabinet photo $2,233 

Pittsburgh Pirates Lloyd Waner Game-Used Cap

Lloyd Waner – nicknamed "Little Poison" – played for Pittsburgh from 1927-40. He later wrapped up his Hall of Fame career with the Pirates in 1945. A circa 1930 Pirates cap worn by Waner sold at auction for $6,900.

Lloyd Waner game-used Pirates cap $6,900 

Pittsburgh Pirates 1909 Pennant

Forbes Field served as the Pirates' home base from 1909-1970. A circa 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates souvenir pennant picturing Forbes Field in excellent condition brought $1,508 at auction. The Pirates left Forbes Field in 1970 and moved into Three Rivers Stadium (1970-2000) and then PNC Park (2001-present).

Pittsburgh Pirates 1909 souvenir pennant $1,508 

Pittsburgh Pirates 1910 Tip Top Bread Baseball Card Set

One of the legendary baseball card issues in the hobby is the 1910 Tip Top Bread Pittsburgh Pirates set. Designated D322 in the standard catalog of baseball cards, this rare 25-card set features Honus Wagner, Sam Leever, Vin Campbell, Paddy O'Connor, Fred Clarke, etc. One PSA graded set sold at auction for $23,500. If only great grandpa would have kept his Tip Top cards!

Tip Top Bread 1910 Pittsburgh Pirates card set $23,500 

Pittsburgh Pirates First Game at Forbes Field Ticket Stub

The Pirates played their first game at Forbes Field on June 30, 1909, before 30,338 fans. Unfortunately, the Cubs spoiled the grand opening, beating the Bucs 3-2. A ticket stub from that historic first game brought $2,350 at auction.

Forbes Field first game ticket stub from 1909 $2,350 

Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente Autographed Baseball

Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente broke into the major leagues with the Pirates in 1955. The 38-year-old Clemente was later killed in a plane crash in 1972 while trying to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. An Official National League ball signed by Clemente on the sweet spot sold at auction for $2,115.

Pittsburgh Pirates Bill Mazeroski 1957 Topps Baseball Card

Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski played for the Pirates from 1956-72. Maz earned a special place in Pittsburgh history during the 1960 World Series, where he delivered a home run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7, giving the Pirates a 10-9 victory over the Yankees and the world championship. "There's a drive into deep left field, look out now…that ball is going, going gone! And the World Series is over! Mazeroski…hits it over the left field fence, and the Pirates win it 10-9 and win the World Series!" Mel Allen made the call over NBC-TV. A graded PSA mint 9 1957 Topps Bill Mazeroski card #24 brought $1,972 at auction.

Bill Mazeroski 1957 Topps baseball card $1,972

Pittsburgh Pirates Gene Freese 1956 Game-Used Road Jersey

Gene Freese played third base for the Pirates in 1956. He's not a Hall of Famer, but his autographed 1956 game-used Pirates #8 road jersey sold at auction for $3,231.25. The Pirates only used this style of jersey from 1954 through 1956.

Gene Freese 1956 Pirates road jersey $3,231.25

Pittsburgh Pirates Sports Memorabilia Credits & Top Image

  • All auction results and images courtesy Robert Edward Auctions, LLC, Watchung, New Jersey
  • Top image: Pittsburgh Pirates 1909 National League Champions pocket mirror $1,410

Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Ten Valuable Ernest Hemingway First Edition Books

Ernest Hemingway first edition books are prized collectibles. The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Winner Take Nothing, Green Hills of Africa, The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and Into the Trees, The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast are the top titles.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was one of America's literary lions. A volunteer ambulance driver in World War I, a seasoned war correspondent and an inveterate world traveler, the macho Hemingway left in his wake a treasure trove of classic literature.  

Ernest Hemingway is always big with book collectors. Here are ten valuable Hemingway first editions and their selling prices at auction. Condition, especially as it relates to the dust jacket, is of paramount importance. Also, autographed editions will carry a big premium.

The Sun Also Rises (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926)

Hemingway's timeless story of American and British expatriates living in Europe following World War I propelled him to literary fame. The narrator is American Jake Barnes, a Great War veteran rendered impotent by an unspecified wound received in combat. Released by Scribner's in October 1926, The Sun Also Rises originally sold for $2 and had a first edition print run of only 5,090 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $5,676.25.

The Sun Also Rises (1926) sold for $5,676.25

A Farewell to Arms (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929)

Hemingway's semi-autobiographical story of Lt. Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, paints a bleak portrait of World War I. The primary setting is the Italian Front, where Henry is wounded – just like Hemingway – and recuperates in a hospital in Milan, where he falls in love with British nurse Catherine Barkley. Originally serialized in Scribner's Magazine from May to October 1929, A Farewell to Arms sold for $2.50 and enjoyed an initial print run of around 31,000 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $1,135.25.

A Farewell to Arms (1929) sold for $1,135.25

Winner Take Nothing (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933)

This is Hemingway's third collection of short stories. Among the offerings are "After the Storm," "The Sea Change," "One Reader Writes" and "Wine of Wyoming." Originally priced at $2, Winner Take Nothing had a first edition print run of approximately 20,000 copies. Auction result in fine condition: $1,792.50.

Winner Take Nothing (1933) sold for $1,792.50

Green Hills of Africa (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935)

Hemingway's second work of nonfiction, Green Hills of Africa chronicles a safari undertaken by the author and his second wife Pauline in East Africa in 1933. Hunting and a discussion of literature dominate the book. Originally priced at $2.75, Green Hills of Africa enjoyed a first print run of 10,500 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $448.13.

Green Hills of Africa (1935) sold for $448.13

To Have and Have Not (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937)

Hemingway's novel set in Cuba and Key West – two locales which played important roles in his life – features Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain who is forced into black market activity by hard economic times. To Have and Have Not is the only Hemingway novel set in the United States. Released in October 1937, the novel had a first edition print run of around 10,000 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $836.50.

To Have and Have Not (1937) sold for $836.50

The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938)

Hemingway's celebrated anthology includes a full-length play, "The Fifth Column," set during the Spanish Civil War. Other stories include "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Killers," "Hills Like White Elephants," "Old Man and the Bridge" and "The Capital of the World." Released by Scribner's in October 1938, The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories had a first print run of only 5,350 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $657.25.

The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938) sold for $657.25

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940)

Hemingway's immortal classic of the Spanish Civil War features Robert Jordan, a young, idealistic American fighting in the International Brigades. Generally recognized as one of Hemingway's greatest works, For Whom the Bell Tolls originally sold for $2.75 and enjoyed a first print run of 75,000 copies. Auction result in very good condition: $418.25.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) sold for $418. 25

Across the River and Into the Trees (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950)

Hemingway's take on World War II, as experienced by his protagonist U.S. Army Colonel Richard Cantwell, garnered some bad reviews upon its release in September 1950. The novel was serialized in Cosmopolitan from February to June 1950. Across the River and Into the Trees enjoyed a first print run of 75,000 copies, with Adriana Ivancich illustrating the dust jacket and Scribner's promotion department redrawing her original artwork. Auction result in very good condition: $131.45.

Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) sold for $131.45

The Old Man and the Sea (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952)

Written by Hemingway in Cuba in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea features Santiago, an aging fisherman who battles a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. The short, 127-page novel was originally priced at $3 and dedicated to Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway's longtime editor at Scribner's. Auction result in very good condition: $956.

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) sold for $956

A Moveable Feast (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964)

Hemingway's posthumously published memoir on his lean years in Paris of the 1920s comes alive, including his early impressions of such writers as Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos. Hemingway had completed his final draft prior to his suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961. A Moveable Feast was originally priced at $4.95. Auction result in very good condition: $179.25.

A Moveable Feast (1964) sold for $179.25

Ten More Collectible Ernest Hemingway First Edition Books, Autographs and Memorabilia

  • Death in the Afternoon (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932) $717
  • Men at War (Crown, 1942), edited by Hemingway $179.25
  • Men Without Women (Jonathan Cape, 1928), first British edition $776.75
  • In Our Time (Boni & Liveright, 1925) $3,107
  • The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Modern Library, 1942), inscribed and signed by the author $3,734.38
  • Ernest Hemingway signed CBS-TV logo card $657.25
  • Hemingway handwritten one-page letter signed "E.H.," July 15, 1959. Madrid, Spain $2,390
  • Original pencil sketch of Hemingway for the dust jacket of The Sun Also Rises, signed "John Blomshield, Paris 1925" $4,481.25
  • Hemingway three-page handwritten signed letter on The Lombardy, New York stationery, undated $3,585
  • The Torrents of Spring (Jonathan Cape, 1933), first U.K. edition $507.88

Inscribed and signed book: The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1942) sold for $3,734.38

Source

  • All auction results and images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: A young Ernest Hemingway in Paris - Charles Scribner's Sons

Ideal's Robot Commando: Collectible 1960s Toy

Ideal Toy's Robot Commando was released in 1961. Robot Commando is a huge collector favorite with near mint in the box models worth $800-1,000 in the vintage toy marketplace.

The year 1961 was a banner year in American history: John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president; Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space; West Side Story, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture, was all the rage at movie theaters; the New York Yankees (surprise) won another World Series; the Apollo program of U.S. manned space flight was launched…

On the all-important toy front (important to kids, that is), the Ideal Toy Corporation, founded in 1907, continued its tradition in grand style, bringing to the marketplace a number of memorable playthings for the younger set. Leading the way was Ideal’s Robot Commando, one of the decade’s truly magnificent toys and a real favorite among vintage toy robot collectors today.

Ideal Toy Corporation's original Robot Commando with box (1961) - William J. Felchner

Ideal Toy Robot Commando Origins

Robot Commando was not Ideal’s first foray into the toy robot field. In 1954, Ideal had launched its now-famous Robert the Robot, America’s first plastic toy mechanical man. Robert, who was constructed of red and silver plastic and stood 13-inches tall, was quite a marvel for its time. A gun-like remote controller linked by a wire to the toy’s back directed the action, making the robot walk forward, back up, and turn right or left – with arms swinging and eyes lighted up. Robert was also equipped with a special talking device which, when cranked, spoke the now-classic words in robotese: “I am Robert Robot, mechanical man. Ride me and steer me, wherever you can.” Robert the Robot became a pop culture icon in the 1950s, as much a part of the American landscape as Howdy Doody comic books and Davy Crockett coonskin caps.

Robot Commando, a direct descendant of Robert the Robot in the Ideal toy line, was designed by the late, legendary toy inventor Marvin Glass (1914-1974). Headquartered in Chicago at LaSalle Street and Chicago Avenue, Marvin Glass and Associates would create a number of other well-known toys and games, including Ideal’s Mr. Machine (1960) and Odd Ogg (1962), Marx’s Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots (1964), Milton Bradley’s Mouse Trap (1963) and Operation (1965), Schaper’s Ants in the Pants (1969), Kenner’s Smash Up Derby (1971), and Parker Brothers’ Masterpiece (1971) and Tug Boat (1974).

Larger than Robert the Robot at 19-inches high, Robot Commando was constructed of red, blue, yellow, black and white plastic. Like Robert, Robot Commando’s action was directed by a remote control device tethered by a wire to the robot’s back. A faux “mike” on the controller, in which a child could bark commands to the robot, was an added feature, along with bulging, hypnotic eyes that rolled when the automaton was on the march.

Robot Commando, as its name implies, was a “fighting robot,” equipped with orange plastic balls which could be launched from the toy’s swinging arms and soft rubber, red-tipped white rockets which could be fired from the head. Regarding the latter, the robot’s head dome would rise on command, out of which a single rocket could be blasted from a spring-loaded launcher. The robot’s power source was three “D” cell batteries which could be installed at the bottom of the toy.

Robot Commando Packaging

Robot Commando came packaged in a patriotic red, white and blue box constructed by the Atlantic Container Corp. of Long Island, New York. Billed as “Robot Commando - The Amazing Mike Controlled Robot!” (A little creative advertising there as it had no functioning microphone), the toy rested inside a protective cardboard collar surrounded by thin storage paper. Adorning the box was a rendition of the robot in action along with a blond-headed boy directing the toy’s movements. Come-on slogans on the box included “Mike Controlled Robot Obeys Your Command,” “Turns Right…Turns Left, Moves Forward,” “Searching Eyes,” “Robot Arms Whip Missiles Into Space,” “Emits Beeper Signal,” and the pies de resistance, “Head Dome Rises…Fires Rockets Into Air.”

Robot Commando Marketing

Robot Commando was promoted by Ideal – the company’s motto at the time: “It’s A Wonderful Toy…It’s Ideal” – in both print and the electronic media. The latter, of course, meant the all-important small screen, with Robot Commando appearing as the star of its own television commercial. And then, of course, there were catalog listings, store displays and word-of-mouth advertising, with the burning news that there was a new robot in town spreading from one household to the next among the small fry crowd.

In subsequent years, Robot Commando also garnered some free publicity. In a November 17, 1964, episode of NBC-TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. titled “The Double Affair” (Act I: “One For The Money”), Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) emerges from Del Floria’s tailor shop where he is met by a pair of wild-eyed assassins in the form of two Robot Commandos. The whirring toy robots then take deadly aim at Illya, launching from their opening domes three exploding missiles in his direction. Grabbing a garbage can lid as an improvised shield, Illya is able to deflect the missiles and snuff out his smoldering, would-be robotic assassins with his suit coat. Deadpan Illya to Del (Mario Siletti): “I think someone is sending their Christmas presents a little early this year.”

Robot Commando also reportedly put in an appearance on another NBC series, Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-63). A look through a detailed guide for all 60 episodes of that classic sitcom, however, has failed to yield any definitive data.

Upon its release in 1961, Robot Commando’s list price ranged from $10 to $12. An original, handwritten retail store notation in the designated white circle at the top of one box reads $10.66. Yes, “double figures” back then for a toy usually meant “big money” for many households.

Robot Commando Collector Toy Value

Ideal’s Robot Commando is one of the big kahunas in the world of collectible robots. Just looking at various websites on the Internet, Robot Commando still generates a lot of excitement from collectors, dealers and just plain nostalgic baby boomers.

“After months of begging, I got a Robot Commando for Christmas in 1963,” posted David Wharton, now a professor of classics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “His eyes spun, he shot rockets from his head, he threw ping-pong balls from his mighty fists. With him at my command, I terrorized my 3-year-old cousin, our dog Topper, and our cat Snowflake.” But alas, David’s Robot Commando did not last the rigors of childhood, as he later told the author: “Mine was inoperable within a year, and I think was in the trash by 1964.”

Book values for Robot Commando in near mint condition with the original box are generally in the $800-1,000 range, making it one of the most valuable American robots of the 1960s. An excellent to near mint example sans the box is valued at around $350-500. One dealer has offered the box only – in good condition – at $249.99.

Robot Commando, which is also the name of a computer game designed by Steve Jackson, was "reanimated" in 1970. This time around the big robot was purple in color and sported a clear dome out of which its missiles could be launched. “Ideal’s Robot Commando is here to help you,” crowed the 60-second TV commercial. “He’s your one-man army!”