Readers ask about matchbooks & Booker T. Washington
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    Auction Finds

    Readers ask about African American art, matchbooks & dolls

    Each Friday, I answer readers’ questions about items they own, helping them with research on the history and directing them to resources to determine the value. What I’ve learned is that there is no quick way to learn the worth of your items (beyond the sentimental value). It takes a little legwork to ensure that you get correct and honest information.

    I get emails from people all the time asking to sell items to me. I’ve never offered to buy because my buying price would likely be way lower than their asking price. Many, I’m sure, haven’t figured out what their items are worth.

    I’ve written a blog post with some tips and step-by-step instructions on how to find that out. It’s a good idea to have some idea before offering items for sale to make sure you don’t get taken by someone who does know or set a price that’s too high.

    Here are this week’s questions and answers:


    I know what I have but I’m not sure how much it’s worth. I can’t find anything on eBay or Google at all. Maybe you could help me.


    Please send me some inside photos (the reader had sent me the cover of what looked like a matchbook-cover guide). I can’t tell exactly what it is from the outside. Is it a book of matchbook advertising design choices for companies? Is there a year inside the book?

    Bill Retsin, who started the American Matchbook Collecting Club and has a website, may be able to help you. I don’t know him but he may have come across a similar book. He should have some broad knowledge about matchbook covers.

    Inside pages for a matchbook-cover advertising design catalog.


    The writer sent me photos and I saw that it was a 1965 Diamond Match Division advertising design catalog for matchbook covers. The company had been using matchbooks for advertising since the 1890s, putting all kinds of company logos and other illustrations on them.

    The catalog contained generic designs apparently created by the company’s Studio Design Department in New York. The designs were offered to gift shops and department stores apparently to be sold to customers as giveaways at baby and bridal showers, weddings, confirmations and bar mitzvahs. Another page showed cartoony matchbook designs of the Old West and sports – golfing, swimming, baseball, skiing and bowling. There was a space on the covers for an ad or other information.

    Like the reader, I was not able to find any other catalog like it. Diamond was a company that made more than matchbooks (remember its toothpicks?). I found on the web a manual on beekeeping supplies (sold on eBay for $24.95) and an illustrated brochure on garages and garage doors (sold for $8.99).

    It may be hard to affix a price to the catalog, but I’m sure there must be collectors out there who may be interested. Since the designs are basic, the catalog may not be of much value, though. But I could be wrong. I’ve been going to auctions long enough to know that you never know.

    On the internet, look for a website operated by someone who collects your item and contact that person. People who collect also become experts in what they collect, and if they take the time to build a website, they are serious. So, don’t hesitate to contact them and send photos – not your actual item.

    If you can offer more information on this design catalog, please comment below.

    "Pool Players" by Columbus Knox sold for $4,600 last year at auction. Others of his works have sold for considerably less.


    I own 2 pieces (by African American artist Columbus Knox) that I purchased many years ago. “The Cock Fighter” was purchased in the 1970s or so. I also own his original version of “Billiards,” which he later repainted as “Pool.”

    From the same reader: I own 2 Columbus Knox paintings, “Billiards” and “The Cock Fighter.” I am interested in selling them (with regret). Would you able to assist in telling me who to contact?


    I would suggest that you contact a gallery or auction house in your town to sell the artwork. Columbus Knox is a Philadelphia artist without a national reputation, so the subject matter may be the key to the value of the works.

    Knox’s watercolor “Pool Players” sold for $4,600 last year at Swann Auction Galleries in New York – about $3,000 more than expected. Nigel Freeman, who’s in charge of African American art for the auction house, noted in an interview on the Maine Antiques Digest website that many people bidded on it because of the image.

    Try offering your works to Swann for sale at auction. Remember that a gallery or auction house will charge you for the sale, so be sure to ask about that and any other costs.

    Here’s another way to go: An auction-goer told me recently that he had bought a religious print at auction and had an inkling that it was worth more than the two bucks he paid for it. So he Googled and found that a gallery in another city had sold one like it for much more. So, he contacted the gallery to ask if they’d be interested in buying his. At the gallery’s request, he sent a photo and was waiting to hear back from them.

    Three other Knox watercolors were sold at a Philadelphia-area auction house last year (unfortunately, I wasn’t around when they sold). One of sunflowers sold for $50; another of dancers for $150, and another of a woman wearing a shawl for $50. I bought a lovely watercolor of gospel singers at auction last year for less than $100.

    I also came across another painting attributed to Knox called “The Farmer,” but I don’t believe it was his. Knox primarily painted African Americans, and this image was not his style or subject matter.

    These African American dolls may be from the Caribbean.


    Do you know what year these are from? The guy I bought them from said the 1930s. Thanks for your time!


    The reader sent a photo of two African American cloth dolls. I didn’t recognize them, but they looked too new to be from the 1930s. Sellers don’t always have correct knowledge about the items they sell. At auctions I’ve attended, auctioneers guess all of the time but the honest ones will acknowledge their uncertainty.

    I sent the photo to an expert on African American dolls, Debbie Garrett, who has written several books on the subject. She has some dolls like these, she said, and they are souvenir dolls from the Caribbean. “I always thought they were from the 1960s, but I could be wrong,” she said.

    I’m thinking that she may be right. If you recognize these dolls, please leave a comment below.


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