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Unusual desks intrigue

Offices looked very different in the 1870s. There was no need to position computer screens, find room for the phone and fax or even have space for a typewriter. Only a flat writing surface and a place to store paper were necessary.

Most office furniture, including filing cabinets and chairs, was made of oak. Only the wealthy used mahogany.

The most famous desk design of the period was created by William S. Wooton, who began making school, office and church furniture in 1870. By 1874 he had patented a "cabinet office secretary." It was a desk that opened up to show pigeonholes and drawers, but it could be closed and locked for security.

In 1876 Wooton made a less elaborate model, known as the rotary desk, that looked similar to desks used today. Each of the side pedestals held a group of cubbyholes and file drawers that could swing open. It took up less space than a conventional desk and file cabinets.

Twelve styles were made by Wooton, and many other makers soon copied the idea. Unusual desks like this sell today for thousands of dollars to collectors, who rarely use them in an office.

Cigarette card cash

Question: I have some 1 1/4- by 2 1/2-inch cards advertising Admiral, Sweet Caporal and other various brands of cigarettes. Each card features a comely lady in a special pose and attire. They may have been the pinups of the time. I would like to date the cards.

Some of the women are identified by name. One is labeled "Mrs. Cleveland." Could that be President Cleveland's wife? Would a president's wife have been allowed to appear on a tobacco card?

Answer: Early tobacco cards pictured actresses, bridges, coins, flags, bathing beauties, generals, athletes, boats and others. The brands on your cards date from the 1890s.

One set was called "Presidents and Other Celebrities." Mrs. Cleveland was card No. 1 in that set. Others included were President Garfield, Gen. Grant, President Lincoln and a few less familiar names like Zeffle Tilbury, Louise Paullin and Annie Pixley.

Common cards like yours can be found for sale at some antiques shows for about $2 each. A rare person or subject can be worth up to $25.

Comics vases

Question: I have three "head vases" of Snuffy Smith (from the comic strip Barney Google), Dagwood (from Blondie) and Jiggs (from Maggie & Jiggs). On the back is the mark K.F.S. with the copyright C in a circle and the word "Puck." The top of the head has grooves where the hair should be.

Answer: You have a planter. It is not normally called a head vase. The grooves were filled with seeds, and when water was kept in the base, the seeds sprouted, making "hair." This is the forerunner of the well-advertised Chia pet seen on television.

K.F.S. stands for King Features Syndicate, which owns the right to the Blondie comic characters. The strip started in 1930. The other characters date back to about 1915. Your vase was probably made about 1935 and sells for over $50 each.

Current prices

Kellogg's Rice Krispies blotter, 1940s: $22.

Bingo game, lithograph box, 1936: $150.

Doll, Goo Goo Eye Eva, floating googly eyes, composition head, 19 in.: $175.

Rodeo chaps, tan with white fringe, 1970s: $200.

Nantucket basket, oval, carved swing handle, Nantucket Island, Mass., 15 1/2 in.: $605.

Leather fire bucket, painted, inscribed "No 1 Calyin Haven 1821" gold on green ground, 20 in.: $1,045.

Send questions to: Antiques, Ralph and Terry Kovel, c/o the Times, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, Ohio 44122.