At the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, druggist Charles E. Hires introduced his root-beer syrup, made from dandelion, ginger, hops, sassafras, black birch, sarsaparilla, and other berries, flowers and roots. It was touted originally for its medicinal value. He first bottled "Hire's Household Extract" in the 1880s, selling it for about a century to home brewers and soda-fountain operators who added water, sugar and yeast to create the popular beverage.
Serious root-beer collectors thirst for drinking glasses, mugs, matchbook covers, trade cards, clocks, thermometers, trays, bottle cases, syrup dispensers and virtually anything promoting their favorite drink or maker. Morrison has identified more than 800 brands of root beer. According to his book, bottle crowns (commonly called caps) can sell for $1 to $5 each, paper- labeled bottles and aluminum cans $5 to $10, and can openers $3 to $20, depending on brand, age, rarity and condition.
Advertising signs usually fetch the highest prices because root-beer
collectors must compete for them with general-advertising ephemera collectors. For example, a charming circa-1914, three-dimensional cardboard standup sign (about 22 by 30 inches) depicting a waiter serving Hires bottles to rosy- cheeked children sitting on a bench with their baseball gear, can bring $1,000 to $1,200.
Q: I have more than 250 postcards from the early 1900s. How can I find out what my collection is worth?
A: Specialist-postcard dealers such as John H. McClintock, a founder of the International Federation of Postcard Dealers, can appraise your collection. For information about his fees or for a list of member dealers, write to him at Box 1765, Manassas, Va. 22110, enclosing a self-addressed No. 10 envelope with 52 cents return postage. He also can provide information about mail-order postcard auctions and forthcoming collectors' shows, including one Nov. 6 and 7 in Ashland, Va.
Deltiology, the collection and study of postcards, is an increasingly popular pastime that novices can begin with the investment of just a few
Collectors generally specialize in pictures of certain places or of favorite subjects, such as early transportation, American main streets, historical events, animals, holiday greetings, roadside diners, royalty or amusement parks. Particularly hot are circa-1930 to -1944 postcards with linenlike finishes showing scenes of U.S. Route 66, selling for $5 to $6 each;
collectors used to pay about 25 to 50 cents each for them.
Condition is key. Most collectors don't want soiled, torn or creased cards, or ones pasted into albums. Writing or cancellations on the picture reduces a card's value. If a card includes a famous autograph or an important stamp or cancellation, it can be particularly valuable and of interest to autograph and stamp collectors, too.
The first U.S. postal cards date from 1873 and are very rare, according to McClintock. Mass-produced souvenir picture postcards debuted at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and required 2 cents postage.
Write to Lita Solis-Cohen, The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Include a description and clear photo of your collectible or antique. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you wish your photo to be returned.