Bartered Organs! Tiny Schooners!

Experts evaluate these and other local treasures in the latest installment of our appraisal series.

Mason & Hamlin pump organ
Photograph by Benjamin Williamson

1. “I purchased this Mason & Hamlin pump organ from the great-granddaughter of the original owners, who acquired it around 1882 by trading a cow. It was transported to different houses around Dover-Foxcroft for Sunday worship. It needs tuning but is in otherwise perfect condition.” — Rebecca Collison, Surry

This organ couldn’t have been too old at the time of the trade, as it’s designed in the late-Victorian Eastlake style — “the rectangular lines and stenciling are dead giveaways,” says Bruce Gamage, of Rockland’s Gamage Antiques. Founded in 1854, Mason & Hamlin produced organs and pianos for renowned musicians like Franz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninoff, notes John Bottero, vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, as well as portable instruments used for religious services, traveling performances, weddings, and funerals. As for value? Unfortunately, if the cow trade were conducted today, the livestock recipients would come out ahead.

Gamage’s appraisal: $200–$300

Photographs by John K. Putnam

2. “My family has a pair of Art Deco carvings from the recently demolished game house at the Briar estate in Bar Harbor. One is signed by Polish-American artist Irena Baruch Wiley and dated 1937. I’m so curious about them.” — Katherine Whitney, Bar Harbor

This carving and its mate are “fabulous examples” of Art Deco craftsmanship, says Bottero, noting they were likely created as over-door or over-window panels for a library, due to their shape and literary theme. The fact that Wiley carved them enhances their esteem — she was an accomplished artist whose 1944 portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is held in his presidential library in Hyde Park. Though no records exist of Wiley’s work selling at auction, Bottero estimates the pieces would fetch a few grand each, based on their technical merits.

Bottero’s appraisal: $2,000–$3,000

three-masted schooner model
Photograph by Benjamin Williamson

3. “I bought this ship at an auction. I was told an old-timer somewhere Down East carved it. Can you tell me anything more?” — Kevin Mcgovern, Orrs Island

Sailors, shipyard workers, and craftsmen often created models like your circa-1890 three-masted schooner in their leisure hours. The finest examples were built like actual ships, with planked hulls attached to individual ribs, intricate deck features, and details in ivory and brass, according to Bottero, who has sold such models for upwards of $50,000. This one, Bottero counsels, with a hull carved from a solid block but with a lot of detail, is precious enough to warrant a glass case to protect it from damage and dust.

Bottero’s appraisal: $1,200–$1,800

Shenango China plate
Photograph by Benjamin Williamson

4. “A former owner of the former Poland Spring House gave my wife 10 of these dishes in the 1970s. Nine were manufactured by Syracuse China, and one is marked “Shenango China.” Are they worth anything?” — Richard LaChance, Syracuse, New York

Sadly, not really. Both New York–based Syracuse China and Shenango China, of Pennsylvania, produced heavy dishes for hotels, passenger ships, and railroads. Codes on the backs indicate they were made in March of 1948 and 1949. Their value lies in the history they conjure of the 1876 Poland Spring House — a rusticators’ resort that hosted presidents Coolidge, Harding, and Taft, as well as Babe Ruth and Joan Crawford. In the dining room, “table girls” served lavish meals on the hotel’s china. In 1975, the inn burned, adding to the set’s sentimental value.

Gamage’s appraisal: $25–$30

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