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Indiana pacer Dan Patch was true celebrity

History becomes more interesting if you learn about it through objects and stories. It's the "rest of the story" that adds to the fun.

A large pail that once held Dan Patch Roasted Coffee auctioned recently for $2,035. The bright-red can features a horse and rider in a harness race. The can is colorful, 11 1/2 inches tall and very decorative, but the price was boosted by the history it represents.

Dan Patch was a brown horse, a pacer, born in Indiana in 1896. He broke the world's record for a harness race in 1906, and it took 32 years for another horse to go faster. He never lost a race. He was a celebrity, and coffee wasn't the only product named for him. Cars and washing machines and cigars bore his name, and so did popular toys.

Crowds followed his appearances and as many as 100,000 people went to see the horse, which, according to reports, "radiated charisma." Dan Patch received fan mail and gifts while making as much as $1 million in a year. He retired from racing in 1909 and died in 1916. He remained a star for many years after his death, partly because his world record was not broken until 1938.

Streets named Dan Patch still exist. Dan Patch Stadium is at a high school in Savage, Minn., where the horse lived after he was purchased by a Minnesotan in 1902. An annual Dan Patch Day festival is celebrated in his hometown of Oxford, Ind., and another annual Dan Patch Day is held in Savage. Books have been written about him and a movie was made about his life in 1949. But Dan Patch Ground Coffee was named for the horse well before the days of movies and television.

You can still find Dan Patch memorabilia in Savage, Minn., today. Go to the Savage Depot Coffee Shop, the Razors Edge Barber Shop or the local library.

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>Q: I inherited two antique Mettlach steins that were appraised six years ago for $1,700 each. I have been trying to sell them online and locally for less than that, but I have gotten no takers. Some dealers have made insulting remarks about my pricing. What's going on?

A: Some Mettlach steins in mint condition can sell for $1,700 or even more, but many sell for a lot less. Price depends on the rarity of a particular stein. In addition, you're dealing with a niche market and may not be reaching interested buyers. Try contacting a national auction house that focuses on steins. You will find several online.

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Tip

To hide a scratch on wooden furniture, rub it with a matching shade of shoe polish. A child's wax crayon also might work.