Part and parcel with collecting is the curiosity of learning all one can about the objects you already possess or pieces you desire to add to your collection; from the scope of what is available, where you might search, the relative cost of various specimens, finding the date of manufacture and then going even deeper into the history associated with the company that made the products.
As an antiques and collectibles seller, that curiosity often leads to far greater research than is necessary to resell an item. One of the items sitting on my desk for sale is this pocket knife. Designed for attaching to a gentleman’s pocketwatch chain, it advertises Wm. D. Orthwein Grain Co. of St. Louis, and is also signed W&H Co. Newark, N.J. on the blade. Now any collector of political, corporate or fraternal buttons, badges and pins should be acquainted with Whitehead and Hoag, famous for their celluloid-covered pinback buttons, ribbon badges, and cartouches, and also famous for their celluloid bookmarkers. So, their logo on the knife sent me on a search. I quickly found part of the answer when I discovered that advertising knives for W&H Co. were made by Boker of New York, the American affiliate of the company in Solingen, Germany, started in 1869. Another search and I found the advertiser, Orthwein Grain Co. of Saint Louis. The three names seem to converge at the early part of the 20th century and with confidence I can call this knife an antique.
Did I need all that information to sell a simple pocket knife? No. But finding that Boker made knives for Whitehead & Hoag gives me even more items to watch for.
Another of our recent finds, and one that fits into my idea of “obscure metal mechanicals”, is this transit ticket printing machine. It was labeled by the seller as a double-decker bus ticket printer, and that it was old. I wanted to see if I could prove that statement. From its wear pattern and condition, I knew it was in use for many years. But the first clue to age was the two five-digit counters, one on either side, for both shillings and half pence.
Next was the label statement that it came from a double-decker bus. Again my constant, friendly encyclopedia, “Google Images”, showed double-decker busses from Western National Omnibus Co., Ltd. So that proves it’s a correct statement. My continuing exploration was to see if the company name ended at some time. With Wikipedia, I found a long synopsis on the history of Western National, starting in 1929, and all of its iterations, including nationalization during the war years, and then again as a private company. No sure answer there. Now I turn to the printed tickets and the multi-dial tumbler. This looks to be set with the year 1945, and it has month and day dials. Also part of the dial is the cost of the fare, which is very unique and not necessary to have tickets reprinted for fare or date changes, which could be updated by the driver as needed. An added feature on this model is a ticket punch located on the top.
I do question the validity of the date stamped on the printed tickets, since the driver could change the numbers, and so could the seller I purchased it from. All that research and I can only assure myself about its use on a Western National double decker bus in England, and that it’s probably mid-century or older. It has a serial number and a better researcher might glean the date from the serial number: 35570.
All searches do not produce results. Here I have a brass skeleton key. It was among a grouping of twenty or so on a key chain and was purchased at a garage sale. Because it is made of brass and has extra detailing, I found it interesting. With luck, I saw a maker’s mark on the key handle and started my search. With the aid of several ever-increasingly powerful magnifiers, and an equal number attempts to Google what I thought I could see of the letters, I’m no closer to a name.