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Mechanical schoolmaster taught the ABCs

Educational toys are not a new idea.

A rare 19th-century "Yankee Schoolmaster" toy was offered in a recent auction. The toy was patented in 1884. Push a lever on the 10 1/2 -inch-tall toy and the mechanism makes the man blink his eyes while the alphabet showing on his chest moves to the next letter. One hand is behind his round body, and the other points to the next letter.

The castings for the toy and the painted finish show the excellent quality of the manufacturer's work. It must have been mysterious for a toddler to see each new letter, and perhaps it did help teach the alphabet. The toy is extremely rare; only a few are known to exist today. It sold last year at a James Julia auction in Fairfield, Maine.

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>Q: Should vintage clothing or linens be washed in soap or detergent? I've heard you can use Fels-Naptha to remove stains.

A: Detergents were invented in the 1940s, but people still like to use soap for vintage cloth since detergents include chemicals and other synthetic ingredients.

Soap is made of natural materials, including oil and lye or another alkaline solution, but it can leave scum in hard water and can cause a fabric to become gray or yellowish if not completely rinsed. Lazarus Fels, founder of Fels and Co., began making soap in 1861. Fels-Naptha was introduced in 1893 when naptha, a solvent, was added to the formula. It can be used to remove stains made by chocolate, grass, makeup, perspiration, oil or grease.

There are some other uses for real Fels-Naptha. If you walk into a patch of poison ivy, wash your clothes with Fels-Naptha to get rid of the poisonous residue. Users claim it can also be used to get rid of aphids on plants, fleas and ticks on dogs, and worms on trees.

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>Q: I have an antique phonograph that belonged to my grandparents. It has the words "Columbia Grafonola" above a circle with two notes in it and the words "Made in U.S.A., Type E.2" below. It still works, and I would like to know how much it is worth.

A: The Columbia Phonograph Co. was established in New York in 1889. The president of the company bought American Graphophone Co. in 1893. American Graphophone Co. manufactured phonographs in Bridgeport, Conn., and Columbia sold them. The Grafonola was introduced in 1907.

The trademark with the notes and the name "Columbia" above it was first used in 1923. The Columbia wasn't as popular as some other brands, and collectors are not as eager to own the old ones. Value: $100-$300.

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Tip

To remove an unwanted gummed price sticker, try heating it with a hair dryer. The glue will melt a bit, and it will be easier to peel off the sticker.

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