Wain's feline designs became fierce over time

Surveys show that pictures of cats are more popular than pictures of dogs or horses. So it is not surprising that ceramic cats are popular with collectors.

Futuristic cat planter
This "Futuristic Cat" planter was designed by Louis Wain. It's marked "Imperial Amphora, Austria." The 11-inch planter sold at a Rago Arts auction in Lambertville, N.J., for $6,100. Cowles Syndicate

Surveys show that pictures of cats are more popular than pictures of dogs or horses. So it is not surprising that ceramic cats are popular with collectors.

A famous illustrator of the 1880s named Louis Wain created popular scenes of anthropomorphic kittens and cats. The cats did human things like walk on their hind legs, dress up in human clothes or play games like golf. But Wain became mentally ill, and soon his cats became strange and even threatening. They had huge eyes, wild fur or square robot-like shapes. If you took an abnormal psychology course in the 1950s, you might have been shown pictures of the early sweet, cuddly kittens and the later frightening, malicious cats.

It was suggested that Wain's schizophrenia became more serious as the cats became less lovable. Today that theory is in doubt, but his many disturbing pictures and figurines of cats remain popular with collectors. Recently one of Wain's futuristic cat figures sold for $6,100. His early illustrations and pictures on postcards sell for $5 to $100 each.

Q: A metal tag on the bottom of my wooden side table says it was made by Brandt Furniture of Hagerstown, Md. The top is octagonal, and the four legs are convex - they curve outward from the top and then in again near the floor. Can you tell me when it was made and what it's worth?

A: Brandt was originally in business in Hagerstown from 1901 to 1985. (A small group of former employees bought the company and reopened it in 1986; that company is still in business.) The nontraditional style of your table's legs indicates it probably was not made early in the 20th century. Its value also depends on condition. If it's in great shape, you might get $100 or more for it.


Q: I have a Stevens "49er" toy cap pistol in its original box. The cylinder revolves when the trigger is pulled. It was made by the J.&E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, Conn. Does it have any value?

A: J.&E. Stevens Co. was founded by John and Elisha Stevens in 1843. The company is best known for its mechanical banks, but it also made cast-iron toys, hammers and hardware. "Firecracker" pistols were first made in 1859, and by 1928, cap pistols were the only toys J.&E. Stevens made. Early models were made of cast iron. The company closed during World War II because iron was scarce. After the war, Stevens made die-cast cap guns. The company was bought by Buckley Brothers in 1950. Cap guns gained popularity after World War II, when there were several TV shows featuring pistol-packing cowboys, cops and robbers, and other characters. Your cap gun probably was made in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Since May 5, 1989, any toy gun that's shaped like a real gun and is sold in the United States must be brightly colored or have a bright orange tip over the muzzle. This helps prevent confusion with the real thing and an accidental shooting by a police officer. The only exception to the law is for guns used only in theatrical performances, movies or TV shows. In perfect condition, your cap gun could be worth $360.

Q: I have a printed picture of an old local brewery that made beer about 1905. It is a large (4 feet by 3 feet) color picture showing brewery buildings with smoking chimneys, horse-drawn carts on the streets and a few trees. Is it valuable?

A: Old color lithographed signs are selling for high prices. If your sign is in good condition, with few tears, creases or stains, and has not been trimmed, it could be worth more than $1,000. Collectors like large, attractive signs that picture events, buildings or people that obviously are from an earlier time. The name of a well-known brand of beer or a company with a local history gives added value. So does a picture of a flag, train, ship, attractive woman or historic event. Your poster shows buildings to impress customers with the stability of the company. The smoking chimneys prove people are working in the plant. Today it would be bad form to advertise with a billowing smokestack, but it was admirable 100 years ago.

Q: Could you please help me identify the maker of my small cast-brass tray? It's 6½ inches square and very heavy. The central figure in the cast design is a spread-winged grouse. The piece is marked on the back, "Copyright 1948, Grouse" alongside a monogram that looks like VM above a C topped by a flagpole. Any information you can give me would be appreciated.

A: The monogram on your plate was used by a Virginia Metalcrafters, which was in business in Waynesboro, Va., from 1890 to 2005. The company was founded as W.J. Loth Stove Co. and originally made cast-iron stoves and wood and coal heaters. It entered the giftware business in the late 1930s around the same time it started using "Virginia Metalcrafters" as a trade name. By the early 1950s, the company was making licensed souvenirs for Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello and other historical museums. When the company was sold in 1953, the new owner changed its name to Virginia Metalcrafters. Some sources say the grouse dish was made from a mold designed by artist Oskar Hansen, who sculpted the winged figures on Hoover Dam. Your plate would sell for about $50.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel's website, .

What To Read Next
Get Local