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Imagine lifting a five-pound heated iron to press your clothes. In past centuries, fabric was smoothed with the help of irons heated by burning charcoal or inserts of heated metal (called slugs), or by irons that were placed directly on a hot stove.

Each method had a drawback. Burning charcoal could emit sparks; slugs would rust because of the moisture of the clothes; and electric irons still have annoying cords. Most irons were made of cast iron or bronze. Designers have tried for centuries to make the perfect iron. In the 20th century, some ran on kerosene, while others shot steam on the clothes. Some were even made of heatproof glass. Collectors searching for rare, 200-year-old irons find most of them for sale in Europe. One of the earliest irons still in existence was sold recently. It was made in France at the end of the 1400s. The flatiron was decorated with cutout flowers, and it had a wooden handle. (Some 19th-century irons had iron handles that were wrapped in a cloth when the heated iron was used.)

It was sold for $11,508 by Auction Team Koln of Germany.

Old displays worth money

Q: I have a small, tin store display for Eveready batteries and flashlight bulbs. The batteries are still in the display case. Is it worth saving?

A: Any piece of old advertising is worth saving. Store displays are prized by some collectors. Your store display probably dates from the 1920s or '30s. If it is in good condition, it would sell for about $100.

Is this an original?

Q: My grandmother has a framed Currier & Ives print titled "Central Park -- The Bridge." How can I tell whether it is a reproduction or an original?

A: Reproductions of 19th-century Currier & Ives original lithographed prints have been made for decades. There are clues that help distinguish an original Currier & Ives lithographed print from a reproduction. Remove the frame and measure the print. An original "Central Park - The Bridge" is small. It measures just 8 inches by a little under 13 inches. If the wording under the print includes the word "reprinted," you'll know it is not an original lithographed print made from a drawing on a stone. Examine the picture under a magnifying glass. Color reproductions are done by a photographic process that breaks colors into a pattern of tiny dots. If you see tiny dots under the glass, you have a reprint. Originals are on heavy paper; reprints are usually on thinner, less absorbent paper. Most originals were lithographed in black and white and colored by hand. All of these tips should be helpful. If you are still concerned, take the print to a specialized dealer or a museum curator. It is best to get advice from an expert who can look at your print.

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