Hawaiian Tremoloa Won't Fetch Big Money

Posted: February 16, 1992

I have a Hawaiian tremoloa, a stringed musical instrument, which my mother gave to me in the 1930s. It is in perfect condition, complete with its case. What is its value?

Frederick Oster, a Philadelphia dealer in vintage musical instruments, said that thousands of these zitherlike instruments were made by the Oscar Schmidt Co. of New Jersey in the '20s and '30s when Hawaiian music was the rage.

There is a mechanical arm on each tremoloa that slides across the strings, providing a distinct warbling Hawaiian sound.

Tremoloas were relatively costly when new, selling for about $30 each.

Because so many survive and Hawaiian music is not as popular as it once was, these instruments are difficult to sell. A dealer at a flea market might ask $50 for a tremoloa.

I have a desk that I was told was made around 1780. Can you tell me something about it?

American Federal style desks such as yours are called tambour desks, named after their sliding doors made of narrow strips of wood glued side-by-side to a canvas backing. Your inlaid mahogany desk needs to be examined firsthand to tell whether it dates from 1780 to 1800, when the Federal style was first in vogue, or whether it is a reproduction made in the latter part of the 19th century.

If your desk was made circa 1780, it could be worth $8,000-$12,000, said Ronald Bourgeault, an Americana dealer and auctioneer in Hampton, N.H. If it is a reproduction, its value falls to around $1,500 to $2,000.

The reproductions should not be dismissed. Many pieces were finely made and now, more than a century later, they have a rich surface color.

Of course, these reproductions are not as rare and valuable as the early examples after which they were modeled. Nevertheless, they are widely sought by decorators and people who want to create a traditional-looking room on a budget.

I am told that the toy trucks sold each Christmas season at Hess gas stations are collectible. I have several Hess toy trucks still in their original boxes. Who would be interested in buying them and what might they sell for?

Lots of collectors might be interested in your plastic Hess trucks, especially if they are in mint condition, said Marvin Silverstein of New Era Toys in Lambertville, N.J.

The first model appeared in 1964 and was a battery-operated, 12 1/2-inch- long tanker, made by the Marx Toy Co. in Hong Kong. When new, it sold at Hess stations for $1.29. Last year, Silverstein sold a 1964 tanker for $1,500; it was in mint condition in its original box depicting a refinery, and came complete with its instruction sheet, small red plastic funnel and tissue paper.

Michael V. Harwood, author of The Hess Toy Collector, said that he sold a set of 20 "mint and boxed" Hess trucks dating from 1964 through 1990 for $16,000.

Harwood's 64-page book with 30 color illustrations is available for $29.95 plus $3.50 postage and handling by writing to the Hess Toy Collector, 314 Stuyvesant Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071, or by calling 800-685-0333 or 201-933-0167.

Lita Solis-Cohen can answer questions only in her column. If you wish to write to her, please include a description, measurement, clear photo, and all markings of your collectible or antique. Write to Lita Solis-Cohen, The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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