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Special boxes for tea made with a lock, key

Oct 15, 2023

Sep 12, 2020

PROTECTING SOMETHING VALUABLE — Tea, an expensive luxury in the 18th century, was kept in a locked box. This tea caddy on a pedestal is 33 inches high by 16 inches wide. It auctioned for almost $3,000. -- Associated Press

It seems strange today that early wooden tea caddies (special boxes for tea) were made with a lock and key. Tea was a very expensive drink in the 1600s. It gave added energy and after the addition of sugar, milk and sometimes lemon, it had a pleasing taste.

The earliest tea caddies in England were made of porcelain shaped like a bottle with flat sides and a lid. Most were made in Holland. By the 1700s, there were large tea chests (caddies) that were made of mahogany, rosewood and other attractive types of wood. The valuable tea was kept in a box decorated with ivory, brass, ebony or silver to show its importance. Most had two or three sections that held a glass liner for the tea. The tea was served in an important room, so the tea caddy was made to resemble the furniture of the day.

A recent Cottone auction sold an English Tunbridge ware tea caddy with inlay picturing Queen Victoria. The caddy was connected to a pedestal, also decorated with inlay. The impressive tea caddy sold for $2,950.

Q: I was just told that there was a bag kept in the privy building used in past centuries. It was quilted from old pieces of cloth and used to save scraps (some say cloth, some paper) to use like we use toilet paper. Is this true?

A: We thought that was a strange question, but we searched our library and finally went online to We wrote about an exhibit in 2009 in Lancaster, Pa., of quilted privy bags. They also had a booklet showing the collection. The bags were used in the privy to hold the pieces of paper that were to be used like toilet paper. Waste went into the hole in the seat to the ground about 6 feet below. Lancaster, Pa., seems to have been the center of this tradition with Amish-made quilted bags. As you probably have heard, the joke was last year's Sears and Roebuck catalog was saved for the outhouse. The only price we have seen for this rare item was $995.

Q: My mom had a beautiful white Wedgwood bowl with lambs’ heads on it. Does it have any value?

A: Wedgwood was founded by Josiah Wedgwood in England in 1759. After many changes in ownership, the company became part of Fiskars Group in 2015. Wedgwood's Edme pattern is white and includes bowls with ram's head handles. The pattern was made from 1908 to 2014. Bowls with ram's head handles have been made in different sizes, with and without a lid, and sell for $50 to $150.

Q: I’m a retired letter carrier. When my son was born in 1975, one of my patrons gave me a gift of Dewar's White Label Scotch Whiskey. I’ve never opened it. The bottle is encased in cardboard and is in the original tin box. Is there any value because of its age? Is it still good to drink?

A: John Dewar & Sons started out as a wine and spirits shop in Perth, Scotland, in 1846. Dewar's founded a distillery in Aberfeldy, Scotland, in 1898. White Label Scotch Whiskey was first made in 1899. The company changed hands several times and has been owned by Bacardi since 1998. White Label is Dewar's most popular brand and a top seller in the United States. Old liquor in unopened bottles is safe to drink. Some people think older bottles of scotch and other distilled spirits are better than newer ones. An old bottle of Dewar's White Label Scotch Whiskey in a tin box sold online for more than $100. Even an old partly full bottle without the box sold for more than a new bottle. The old tin boxes are collected and sell for near $100. A new, full bottle is about $25. An empty bottle is worth under $10.

Q: I’d like some information on the value of a doll I have. The doll has a china head with open and close eyes, open mouth with teeth and a wig with long curls. The word "Halbig" is embossed on the bottom of the back of her head. What is the doll worth and where can I sell it?

A: Your doll's head was made by Simon & Halbig, a German porcelain factory founded in 1839. It made dolls and also doll heads, arms and legs for other doll makers in Germany, France and the United States. The company was bought by Kammer & Reinhardt in 1920 but continued to make dolls until 1932. Your doll may have been made by Simon & Halbig before the company was sold, or just the head may have been made by the factory. Simon & Halbig dolls sell at auctions for a few hundred to more than $1,000. Size, condition and costume all help determine the price. Many S&H dolls are sold in online auctions and you can see the prices.

Q: Is there any way to test to see if an item is made of resin, bone or plastic?

A: Bone and resin are natural products. Bone has small black or brown pock marks called "marrow flecks." It's heavier than resin or plastic. Resin is an organic material made from plants and trees. It may have some tiny bubbles in it. Plastic is a synthetic material and is harder than resin. Although a resin figurine is heavier than the same figurine in plastic, it is not as durable and is more likely to chip or crack if dropped.

TIP: Don't wash, set, comb or change the original hair on a vinyl doll. It lowers the value.


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.

• Pewter candlesticks, fluted stem with swags, square base with cut corners, touch mark on base, Continental, c. 1800, 89 inches, pair $30.

• Superman, Dime Register Bank, graphic pictures Superman breaking chains, tin, square with cut corners, $120.

• Glass-blown, epergne, clear, etched Greek key pattern, eight-point stars on column, baluster, shallow dish, domed foot, Corning, N.Y., 1800s, 14 1/2 inches, $250.

• Toy, Flintstones train, Bedrock Express, Fred & Wilma in locomotive, stone graphics, tin lithograph, zigzag action, metal bell, Marx, box, 12 inches, $415.

• Rug, hooked, album quilt, 6 square panels, multicolored flowers, fruits, birds, black scalloped border, red scroll inner border, 19th century, 107 x 72 inches, $690.

• Doorstop, rabbit, sitting up on hind legs, brown, blended paint, embossed leaves on base, cast iron, marked, Bradley & Hubbard, 15 x 8 x 2 3/4 inches, $1,230.

• Pottery, midcentury, plate, Bull Under the Tree, black design on white ground, dotted rim, marked, Edition Picasso, Madoura, 1952, 8 inches, $2,125.

• Coin-operated, slot machine, Mills, mobster, figural, man with mustache, black & white pinstripe suit, gun at side, holds machine, 25 cents, mid-1900s, 72 x 22 inches, $2,750.

• Furniture, table, Biedermeier, tilt top, walnut veneer, ebonized details, inlaid medallion, petals, trumpet style pedestal base, Vienna, c. 1810, 30 x 43 inches diameter, $3,245.

• Sampler, figures, trees, animals, birds, flower border, blue ground, verse, What conscience dictates, Rhode Island School, 19th century, frame, 19 x 15 inches, $6,875.

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