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Elaborate frames upstaged the pictures

Picture frames were very elaborate during Victorian times. The rectangular frame for an oil painting could be 3 or 4 inches deep with several different types of carving on the borders. And the frame often was covered with gold leaf.

Small frames were sometimes made of carved pieces of dark wood joined in a crisscross fashion. The simple silver frame favored today for photographs was unknown to Victorians. They preferred odd-shaped silver-plated frames with added figures or objects because they liked lots of ornamentation. Their picture frames often were more important than the pictures in them, and added decorative value to a group display.

Today, picture frames and mats are made to enhance pictures. During the past 25 years, museums and serious collectors have tried to keep pictures in their original frames. Artists, after all, often made the frames to go with a special "look" they were trying to achieve. Landscapes were put in frames with wide borders that slanted into the painting, giving added depth.

Signed picture frames by known makers sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. Do not put a new frame on an old painting, print or drawing before you learn what type of frame it ought to have.

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Q: A while ago, I purchased a papier-mache duck decoy made by the General Fibre Co. of St. Louis. The decoy is impressed "General Fibre Co., Ariduk, Reg. U.S. Pat. Off., St. Louis 2, Mo." There's a 21/4-inch hole on the top of the duck. Why the hole? And what is the decoy worth?

A: Your molded-fiber (papier-mache) decoy dates from the mid-1940s or early 1950s. One clue to its age is the postal zone, 2, in the address. Postal zones were first used in 1943. Another clue is the material your decoy is made of. Molded fiber was first used for factory-made decoys in 1939, but it really took off after World War II. Then, in the early 1950s, molded fiber was replaced by Styrofoam and plastics. The hole on the top of your decoy originally was covered with a thin layer of fiber. It was designed to be closed with a wooden plug after the decoy was filled with ballast. Ariduk duck decoys sell for $5 to more than $100, depending on condition, color and type of duck.

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Q: I have a cookie jar that seems to be an ad for Nabisco Sunshine cookies. Did many companies make their own special cookie jars?

A: Cookie jars have long been popular with collectors, and some collectors specialize in advertising jars. Look for jars by Nestle's, Aunt Jemima, Blue Bonnet margarine, Milk Bone dog biscuits, Coca-Cola, Quaker Oats, Barnum's Animal Crackers, M&M's and Quaker Oats. There also are jars for smaller companies, like Haggard's Quality Cream Flake Cookies and Dad's Oatmeal Cookies.