Colonial Reading Lamps! Primitive Bowling Balls!

Learn about these and other local treasures in the latest installment of our appraisal series, inspired by a certain PBS show that has yet to swing through our state.

pewter oil lamp

Photograph by Cody Barry

My grandmother told me this 6-inch-long lamp, passed down through her family in North Berwick, is a whale-oil lamp. It seems to have had a lot of use. — Linda Tharp Tsao, New York

This is a 19th-century oil lamp in pewter (hence the pitting) with a turned-walnut handle. Whale oil or lard may have fueled it. Given its petite size, it probably provided just enough light to read by, says Bruce Gamage of Rockland’s Gamage Antiques. Concentric circle markings on the underside suggest English origins — Early American metalsmiths typically signed their pieces. Those bearing the names of prominent craftsmen (such as Bostonians Thomas Bumsteed and Thomas Clark) are sought after.

Gamage’s Appraisal: $100–$200

antique ball made of lignum vitae

Photograph by Cody Barry

I found this ball on a wharf next to a skeletal old dory. A fisherman told me it had been dragged up from the ocean back when the boat was in use. Some research suggests it may have been used in a type of bowling game? — Linda Bridges, Scarborough

Games where players rolled a ball to knock over pins date back to Roman times. Bowling in the 19th century, when your ball was made, was primarily done with wooden equipment on grass or uneven wooden floors, according to John Bottero, vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Your piece is made from lignum vitae, a tropical hardwood so dense it doesn’t float, which explains why the ball ended up on the ocean floor. Most examples have plain, drilled holes without metal inserts — which, in this case, have come loose due to expansion and contraction of the wood — making yours quite unusual.

Bottero’s Appraisal: $100–$200

rope bedPhotograph by John K. Putnam 

This old, double-size rope bed was bought at an auction for a late-1700s Maine farmhouse for which I am the caretaker. We’d appreciate any information regarding its worth. — Sherryl Fields, Trenton

Simple, maple turned-post beds like this were found in many 19th-century New England homes. The rope platform typically held a canvas mattress filled with feathers, straw, or horsehair and required periodic tightening with a wooden tool known as a “bed key” when the cables began to sag. Due to the necessary maintenance and the fact that such beds were not made in standardized sizes — necessitating custom mattresses — “there’s not a big demand for these today,” Gamage says. Fancier models made in cabinet shops will fetch the highest prices.

Gamage’s Appraisal: $200–$300

wind-up monkey toy

Photograph by Benjamin Williamson

We found this toy in a closet in my family’s central Maine home. Its costume is a bit moth-eaten, but the hands still go up and down and the head from side to side. I’m curious about its origins, rarity, and any value the wooden box adds. — Carol Wutzdorff, Manchester

Your wind-up monkey was made by Ives, Blakeslee and Co. in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which operated under this name from 1882 to 1893. Wholesaled from the manufacturer for $30 per dozen, these toys were sold to consumers for a hefty (by Victorian standards) $3 or more apiece, which likely explains why your figure was so well taken care of, Bottero says. “Such a fine example, with its original box and paper label, would be highly desired by toy collectors.”

Bottero’s Appraisal: $1,000–$1,500

SUBMIT YOUR ITEM! Have a Maine-y curiosity you’d like to know more about? Send a photo and description to [email protected] and we may feature it in an upcoming column.