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'Whatsits' of the past amuse and confuse

Unfamiliar objects used by our ancestors continue to confuse and amuse today's collectors.

"Whatsits" were a popular subject on television shows. We identified buggy-whip holders, eyeglasses for chickens to prevent them from pecking each other, even a spring-loaded candle that was attached to a clock and lit the fireplace each morning.

Most unidentified whatsits were made for kitchen or farm use. One item that came in many shapes was the chicken waterer, still used today in a modern form. Early examples look like glass jars turned upside down over a shallow bowl of water, a sort of fountain for barnyard chickens.

Marked pottery examples by short-lived factories bring good prices because of their rarity. Waterers by commercial factories that made many of these odd objects sell for $100 to $200.


Q: My mom died in July, and I'm trying to sort through some of her belongings. One of the items I'm trying to price, possibly for sale, is her hutch. Printed inside the drawers are the words, "Rockingham Temple Stuart Colonial Modern Dinette." I believe it is maple and it's like new. I looked online and saw prices as low as $50 and as high as $650. Can you help out in any way, either by suggesting a price range or telling me where I might find some information?

A: Temple Stuart Furniture was founded in Baldwinville, Mass., in 1904. Rockingham is one of the lines it made. The company was bought by a Canadian company, Roxton Temple Stuart Ltd. of Waterloo, Quebec, in about 1987. Your mother's hutch would sell for about $200 to $300.


Q: Have you heard of a California pottery company called California Cleminsons Galagray? When I was married 50 years ago, an aunt gave me a set of the pottery's dishes as a wedding present. The dishes are marked with those words. I would like to know more about the set.

A: George and Betty Cleminson founded a pottery called Californian Clay in 1941. Betty was the designer and George handled the business end. They worked in their garage in Monterey Park, Calif., and later moved to a larger facility in El Monte, Calif. The company name was changed to California Cleminsons in 1943. Dinnerware, kitchenware and decorative items were made at the factory. Galagray is the pattern name of your dishes. Most Cleminsons pieces are marked. The pottery closed in 1963.


Q: Is there any interest in vintage dental things? My brother recently retired as a dentist. He has several pieces of furniture and equipment that belonged to an associate who retired when he was over 90 years old. He has a gray wood laboratory cabinet marked "American Cabinet Co.," an old sterilizer that resembles a dishwasher, some old hand instruments and many old bottles of chemical supplies. If there are collectors of such things, how can I contact them?

A: Dental instruments, old bottles and dental cabinets are very collectible. American Cabinet Co. was founded in Two Rivers, Wis., in the early 1900s. Talk to local antique-dealers to find out who sells "technology." Cabinets with drawers sell well. Prices can be found -- for free -- on our website,

The first dental furniture sold under the American Cabinet Co. name was designed by Dr. E.J. Soik, a dentist, and Harry C. Growen, a Hamilton Co. bookkeeper, in 1896. The cabinets were made by Hamilton Co., a furniture maker. The name "American Cabinet Company" is being used by a different company today and is not related to the company that made dental cabinets. The sterilizer is not as collectible and is of low value, but some instruments sell for more than $100 apiece.

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