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Toy boats remain popular collectibles

Toy boats have been popular for hundreds of years. There were carved wooden sail boats, tin models of paddle-wheel boats, ocean liners and military fleets made by the 19th century. By the 20th century many were made with mechanisms that pushed them across the water. Or there were simple floating “pond” boats. The exploding boat wasn’t made until the early 1900s. It was a toy made of blocks of wood and came with a submarine or cannon that could shoot a wooden “torpedo” at the side of the boat and blow the wooden blocks apart. The first of these was a 12-inch battleship and cannon set made by Baker and Bennett of New York about 1905 called “Exploding Battleship Builder.” Schoenhut made a similar toy in 1915 called the “Naval War Game.” It was a boxed set with a ship, submarines and three torpedoes. The mechanisms were simple. Each ship had a hollow spot in the lowest wooden section where a mousetrap was set. When the torpedo hit the ship’s side, the trap was sprung and the boat came apart in a noisy “explosion.” Homemade versions were made following printed instructions in a 1935 Popular Science magazine. And in the 1950s, a similar plastic toy was made. The early exploding B & B toy set, 16 pieces and the box, sold at a James Julia auction in Fairfield, Maine, in 2015 for $237.


Q: We bought an arts and crafts-style home, which was built in 1913 in a historic district of San Diego. There is a round circle of brass about two inches in diameter in the middle of the dining-room floor. There are three holes in the brass for prongs to be inserted. Could it have been a servant’s bell?

A: Servants’ bells were used to summon servants in homes built for the wealthy. By the early 20th century, bells were electric and were wired from various rooms in the house to the servants’ area. The bell in the middle of the dining-room floor would have been near the head of the dining-room table. Wires from the bell led to the kitchen. Someone sitting at the table could step on the bell to call a servant to bring the next course. The holes in the brass may be where the bell or the wires were attached to the plate in the floor.


Q: We have a dresser with a label that reads “Globe-Bosse World Furniture Co.” When was that company in business?

A: Globe-Bosse World Furniture Co. was founded in Evansville, Ind., in 1910 when three furniture companies in Evansville joined together. The Globe Furniture Co. started in 1899, Bosse Furniture Co. in 1905 and World Furniture Co. in 1907. A fire destroyed much of the company in 1946. It was out of business by the early 1960s.

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