Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: In 1947, I purchased a 9-inch high celluloid Snowman at a local drug store. The Snowman has a back hat, eyes, and buttons and a red scarf and mittens. There is an electric light inside. I would like to know the manufacturer, the date, and its value. – BH, Sedalia, MO, Email Question

ANSWER: The Royal Electric Company, manufacturer of Royalite, made your Snowman at its Pawtucket, Rhode Island factory. The Royal Electric Company and Paramount were the principal bubble light competitors of NOMA (National Outlet Manufacturers Association, founded in 1925). Royal Electric Company’s Pawtucket factory, which produced its Christmas products line, was destroyed by a 1955 fire. Rather than rebuild, Royal Electric sold its remaining holiday stock to NOMA and Miller Electric. NOMA and Miller Electric distributed the Royal Snowman and Santa figurines into the 1960s. NOMA also produced “Royal” Santas and Snowmen at its Saint Joseph, Missouri plant.

Royal Snowmen came in several varieties. You example has only an interior light. Other examples have a socket in the left hand which could house a bubble light or Christmas light, candle, or green plastic tree. The Snowman figure also was mounted on a red, stepped, elongated oval base and flanked on each side by a reindeer or candle light.

One eBay seller identified the Royal Snowman as Frosty the Snowman. Gene Autry and the Cass Country Boys did not record Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steven Nelson’s “Frosty the Snowman” until 1950, a year after Autry’s successful “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” song. Since you bought your Snowman in 1947 and surviving Royalite packaging for the Snowman make no mention of Frosty, the attribution is false. Further, the Royalite Snowman does not have a button nose, corn cob pipe, or broomstick. Look-alike is not the same as is.

Celluloid is flammable and cracks easily. Be careful when turning on the inside light to make certain it does not touch the surface. Since the paint is on the surface, it is common to find examples with chipped and/or missing paint.

Examples with the socket in the left hand are the most desirable among collectors. Examples in fine or better condition start at $50.00 and occasionally exceed $100.00. The period packaging adds another 10 percent. Identical examples to the one you own sell between $25.00 and $30.00.

QUESTION: My father fought as a member of United States Marine Corps at the battle of Iwo Jima. In the course of fighting, he acquired a Japanese Samurai sword, stolen on the ship carrying him home, and a silk rising sun flag surrounded by Japanese characters. I cannot read Japanese so I have no idea what the characters mean. What value does it have if I wish to sell it? – DM, Reading, PA

ANSWER: Your flag is a Good Luck flag (hinomaru yesgaki) given to members of the Japanese armed forces during their induction or prior to deployment. The flags were signed by family and friends and often contained messages of good luck and victory. The writing was done sideways around the rising sun in the center. Many Japanese soldiers carried them during World War II. They are one of the more common battlefield souvenirs from the Pacific campaigns.

Your flag presents you with a dilemma. It has a secondary market value. There are more than a dozen examples offered for sale on eBay with prices ranging from $150.00 to $225.00, depending on condition and content. These asking prices match those found on the Griffin Militaria website http://griffinmilitaria.com/cgi-bin/imcart/display.cgi?cat=10. In checking sell through prices on WorthPoint.com, prices are higher. Elaborately signed flags realized from $275.00 to over $400.00.

The dilemma is this. The flag may be the only survival evidence of the soldier that carried it. Japan and the Obon Society work with individuals who have these flags to identify the soldier and return the flag to a living relative or relatives.

Owners can send a picture of the flag to the nearest Japanese Consulate or the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. The consulate or embassy will forward the image to the Social Welfare and War Victims’ Relief Bureau, part of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. The Bureau will research the flag and try to identify a living relative. Privacy is maintained throughout the process. The living relative may or may not wish to accept the flag. The returner may not wish to be identified. Under no circumstances will the Japanese government purchase a good luck flag or act as an intermediary in the sale to a family relative. The Non-Profit Organization Association of Peace and War Mourning (http://www.senbotsusya.com/en/) located in Japan also facilitates the return of the flags.

The Obon Society (https://obonsociety.org/), located in Astoria, Oregon, is a “non-profit humanitarian effort dedicated to the pursuit of peace. [It provides] opportunities for reconciliation between family through the return of personal items taken during war.”

During my professional career, I have corresponded or talked with more than a dozen individuals who own these flags. When suggesting their return, especially to the World War II veterans who acquired them on the battlefield, I have meet with strong resistance. I accept this. Animosity toward an enemy is not easy to cast aside. It is my hope that subsequent generations will be more open to returning them.

[Author’s Aside: The spoils of war dates back to ancient time. Looting and war are synonymous. Victorious soldiers “sticky finger” a great deal of material. Japanese good luck flags are only one of many types of battlefield souvenirs I encountered during my professional appraisal career. Ninety-nine percent or more cannot be identified with a specific person. The ones that can be trouble me because few current owners exhibit interest in tracing the current heirs and returning it.]

QUESTION: While searching on a local Facebook sale page, I happened to come across an intriguing piece of Vandor Pottery. I looked online but was able to find only limited information. The large pitcher has a pastel blue, ocean wave relief body. A girl in a Hula costume sitting on a surfboard is on top of the handle. I think it might be a discontinued item and a rarity. What information can you provide about the production period for the item and approximate value? – DM, Email Question

ANSWER: Ted Vandor, a gift industry pioneer, founded Vandor in 1957. The company was headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its products were creative and occasionally irreverent.

The Lyon Company purchased Vandor in 1994 and renamed it Vandor by Design. It continued the tradition of issuing irreverent collectibles and gifts such as collector tins, cookie jars (especially character related jars, for example Betty Boop, Elvis Presley, Wonderwoman), lamps, music globes, and more. Nostalgia related runs usually range from 2,400 to 3,600 piece, albeit runs in excess of 4,800 pieces are known. “Cowman Mooranda” and “Crocagator” are among its best-known kitchen lines. [See: http://www.vandorproducts.com/t-article-29.aspx.]

Vandor’s Hu La La Collection appears to have been introduced around 2000. In researching the line, I found several listings for recently discontinued pieces still mint in their packaging. In addition to your wave pitcher, the line included a chip and dip bowl (a mate in design to your pitcher), hula girl surfing on shoe waves salt and pepper shakers, and guitar-shaped teapot.

The website surfwarez.com lists an example of your 10-inch high by 7-inch across pitcher for $65.93 plus shipping with this note: “We’ve just been informed by the manufacturer that the Hu La La Collection has been discontinued…we’ve raised our price accordingly.” The piece has not sold. Surfwarez’s pricing is an example of an attempt to create instant scarcity.

[Author’s Note: Rarity does not now nor ever can be applied to production runs that number in the hundreds, let alone thousands.]

It takes decades to establish actual scarcity in the secondary antiques and collectibles market. Sellers who believe discontinued means an automatic rise in the secondary market value of an object are well advised to remember the Beanie Baby debacle. Objects usually are discontinued because they did not sell or to encourage high-demand for future product offerings. Ignore these observations at one’s peril.

Anyone who falls for the Surfwarez’s hype is a fool. Any price above $25.00 for the pitcher is pure speculation. The pitcher’s appeal is geographically limited – Hawaii and the West Coast. There are not enough Hula girl collectors to sustain a secondary market.

At this point, Vandor’s Hu La La Collection is a collecting novelty or curiosity, an approach that confirms Vandor’s product approach of making “retro cool with the creation of hip and functional products."

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.

SELL, KEEP OR TOSS?: HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY (House of Collectibles, an imprint of Random House Information Group, $17.99), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via www.harryrinker.com.

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