Russel Wright (1904-1976) worked as an industrial designer, a job created in the 20th century. In the 1920s, he worked in the theater making sets and props.
After 1929, he formed a company with his wife Mary, who was also a designer, designing furniture, radios and useful household accessories made of spun aluminum, stainless steel, paper, wood, glass, plastic and ceramics. Wright’s most famous products are the modern dinnerware, beginning in 1938, for many china companies including Harker, Iroquois, Steubenville and Justin Tharaud. The “American Modern” pattern, introduced in 1939 by Steubenville Pottery, became America’s best-selling set for over 20 years. Copies are made by Bauer Pottery today. Most collectors know about the dinnerware patterns, but few have discovered his now-more-expensive metal or wooden pieces. A spun aluminum bowl sells for over $10,000, a wooden “Oceana” bowl for about $2,000 and nickel-plated bookends shaped like horses, $2,700. Almost all of Wright’s works are signed with his name.
Q: I’d like to know the history and value of my three-drawer chest made by “Brandt” of Hagerstown, Md. I’m 83 years old and this chest belonged to my mother.
A: Brandt Furniture Co. was established in Hagerstown, Md., in 1901. The company went out of business in 1985. Former employees reopened the factory in 1986 and continue to operate it as a small family business. One Brandt table has an unusual history.
Some say papers containing secret information about the U.S. atomic bomb were photographed lying on a Brandt table that belonged to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In 1953, the couple was convicted of conspiring to pass information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The photograph was one of the pieces of evidence that helped convict the couple. Brandt chests sell as used furniture, not added antique value, for $150 or so.
Q: My husband and I would like to sell a vase set that was a gift years ago from someone who traveled to Alaska. We think it’s made of ivory. It’s finely carved with stems and flowers and has three vases, one shaped like a small bowl. The whole thing measures about 7 by 7 inches. Any clue what it might be worth?
A: You have a smoking set that is made of soapstone, not ivory. The bowl is an ashtray and the other containers are meant to hold cigars, cigarettes and matches. Soapstone is a soft rock with a soapy feel that was carved into figurines and bowls in many countries in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It’s popular with Alaska Native artists because it’s widely available, easy to carve, and resists acids and chemicals, but your gift looks like those made in Asia. Soapstone has heat-retaining properties that make it good for foot warmers or griddles. Many soapstone pieces have designs that are pierced like your set. Your smoking set probably was made in the early 20th century and is worth between $60 and $125.
Q: How much is a set of brass fire tools with a hunting theme worth? It includes a poker, tongs, shovel, and holder. It’s intricately “carved” with a rifle standing up, a dead rabbit and a dog resting on the base. I can’t find any markings or dates. Does it have any value?
A: Sets of fireplace tools are hard to sell. Plain brass fireplace tools, without intricate raised designs, sell for as low as $20 to $30. Someone looking for fireplace tools with a hunting theme would be willing to pay more for your set. A set like yours sold online for about $100.