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Antiques: Images of Belsnickle disappeared in 1862

“Belsnickle” is a German name said by some to be taken from the words “belzen,” meaning “to wallop,” and “Nickel,” a form of the name Nikolas. Others say the name is from “pelz,” the German word for fur. Modern tradition prefers the more friendly idea of an old man dressed in fur and rags who gave toys to good children. He visited children at their homes and asked them if they had been good all year. Of course they said “yes,” so he gave them all gifts. The Belsnickle figure represents a poor man who wanted food or money. He was usually made with a bent back, large face and long beard. Many were shown with their hands hidden in the rags as if they were cold. Those images disappeared in 1862 when Thomas Nast created the fat, smiling Santa for Harper’s Weekly. Today, most Santas look like the one from the 1930s Coca-Cola ads. Early Belsnickles did not wear red, so figures with green, gray dark blue coats are the oldest and probably the most expensive. But be careful, very good reproductions are still being made. They are originally sold as modern copies, but after going to a house sale, the history is lost and they may fool an unwary collector. This Pennsylvania German folk art Belsnickle was sold a few years ago by Bertoia Auctions for $18,400. It was made of brown chalkware in the late 1800s.


Q: We have a wooden folding pool table from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It’s 40 inches by 22 ½ inches and folds down for storage. There are two cues, the balls, and the triangle to set them. The original tab on the underside reads “The Burrowes Corporation, Model 408, Pool/Billiard Tables, Portland Maine.” It’s in great condition. Is this of any value?

A: E.T. Burrowes was founded in Portland, Maine, in 1873. The company made wire screens for doors and windows, folding card tables, cedar chests, billiard and pool tables, and parts for automobiles. In an 1892 ad, the company claimed it was the world’s largest maker of wire window and door screens. A 1903 ad listed Burrowes combination billiard and pool tables that could be set on top of a dining room or library table. Legs could be added to stand the pool table on the floor. Prices ranged from $6 to $15 for small tables and $25 to $75 and up for larger versions. By 1906 the company was advertising spare wheels, rims and other items for automobiles. Your table might sell for $50 to $150 at auction.


Tip: Don’t try to wash and clean vintage glass Christmas ornaments. The paint could easily flake off. Just dust.

Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.