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A BEGINNING COLLECTOR'S TREASURE -- FIGURINE CONTAINERS

Figural containers have fascinated collectors for years. There were 18th-century perfume bottles shaped like women, 19th-century whiskey jugs in the form of judges and politicians and 20th-century lady-head vases. They are all in demand. Lady heads that sold for $5 to $15 each in the 1980s now bring $100 to $1,000.

The best buys today for beginning collectors are probably other kinds of figural vases, like baby heads, clown heads and full-figure vases, that are still relatively inexpensive. Holiday figurals and nursery subjects are the real bargains. They can still be found at garage sales for less than $10. Much of this floral pottery was made in Japan or Czechoslovakia and was imported to the United States. Valentine flowers are still sold in clever containers that feature hearts and attractive women. Look for 1960s, '70s and '80s vases picturing girls in full-skirted dresses decorated with hearts. Marks could include "Made in Japan," "Made in Hong Kong" or importer's marks, like "Enesco," "Napco," "Relpo" or "Rubens." These collectibles are sure to go up in value.

Rocker facts

Q: I am in my 80s and want to leave my antique platform rocker to my daughter. I would like to give her some history and an idea of the chair's value. According to the original nameplate attached to one leg, it is a "Hunzinger duplex spring platform rocker patented September 26, 1882."

A: George Hunzinger (1835-1898) immigrated to New York from Germany in 1855. He opened his own cabinetmaking shop in New York City in 1860. Hunzinger became well-known for his unusual designs. He patented 21 technical improvements for furniture, including the rocking device used on your chair. The Strong Museum in Rochester has a chair just like it. Your Hunzinger rocker would sell for more than $1,000.

Valentine wishes

Q: I found a box of old family papers, and inside was a valentine made of small, cutout cupids, flowers and lace. On the back is printed a palette and easel, the initials "R.T.S." and the words "Publishers by Appointment to Their Majesties the King and Queen."

A: You have a valentine that was probably made after 1901, when Queen Victoria died. The mark refers to Raphael Tuck and Sons, an English firm. There was no king in Queen Victoria's day, so the card must have been made during the reign of King Edward and Queen Alexandra in the 20th century. The cut-out cupids and flowers are called "scrap." They are small embossed and color-printed bits of paper that were and still are popular for decoupage, scrapbooks or other craft projects. Most valentines were handmade in the early 1900s.

English plates

Q: I inherited a pair of 10-inch floral-pattern plates that once hung on a wall in my grandmother's house. The plates are cream-colored with gold trim. The mark on the back shows a black ship with sails on a yellow background and the words "Gray's Pottery, Made in Stoke-on-Trent, England." They date from the 1940s or earlier.

A: A.E. Gray & Co. was a decorating firm that worked in the Staffordshire district of England from 1902 to 1962. Artists at the firm, including Susie Cooper during the 1920s, decorated blanks made by other local potteries. The mark on your plates shows that they were made during the 1930s.

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