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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dig Report: 12/11/10 - I don't know...What the heck is it?

If you remember the program called Wonderama, then you probably grew up in the New York metropolitan area, or within range of the transmitter on the Empire State building.  This was a kids variety show that  aired in the late 60's early 70's on Sunday mornings and featured all kinds of fun stuff. One of the segments presented an item where the kids were supposed to guess what it was.  The opening bump to that segment featured the host, Bob McAlister in a funny voice saying,"I dunno.Vat da heck is et!?"   Funny how some things never leave you.

I couldn't find the segment I wanted but couldn't help reminiscing.   Speaking of things never leaving:

At a local Estate sale this weekend, actually, the only estate sale (in range) this weekend, I was fortunate enough to find a "dig".  Nothing against the nice people running it, but it wasn't really anyone's estate, but a collection of over 100 years of what any family would accumulate and want to pare down. Mom is an artist and grandpa owned an apothecary in the city that had been abandoned for decades until the family had to clean it out because the roof had caved in. You know, just like in any family, stuff happens and the things that were rescued and kept eventually couldn't be kept anymore. AVA and I had fun digging, she attempted to type the great American novel on a 50 year old Remington, while I poured over books and odd apothecary bottles.  There are 2 categories of items I like to find at these sales: Things that I know what they are; and things that I have no idea what they are, though hold some kind of aesthetic interest. Here another look at the mystery of the week:

At 6" x 3" and 3" high, cast iron about 1.5 lbs and only a vague label on the front:

"The lever" was either the business or the manufacturer's "model" name for what ever this was. Or, maybe people just like to nickname their office supplies...There's a hint.

Buying items when you don't know what they are is risky and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, especially if the "hoarder" gene runs in your family tree (that would be the branch that still has all the leaves). However, for the terminally curious like me...no problem. Half the fun is the deal.  After asking the family members running the sale, "What is this?" and getting the results of their internet search...not a clue..."Well, we think it is some kind of paper-fastener. " Then, I asked the important question:  "How much?"  The price started at $10. but  I won't pay $10 for something that has no origin. "How about $5?" I returned.  "How about $7?"  I backed off, by saying that I knew it wasn't a paper-fastener (I had tried it out) and I was only interested in playing detective.  He finally acquiesced and came down to my price.  But the exchange ended on a funny note with the seller saying, "Aw, what the heck.  That's one less item I'll have to bring to the dump."  Why do people need to win the psychological battle after losing  at the haggling game? If it was only going to be tossed (which I didn't believe) why haggle at all?  Getting  $5 dollars for the item put the "house" ahead because it was likely bought and paid for years ago. Their real fear is that the item is worth millions and they lost out because they couldn't search long enough to confirm it. I always advise sellers when approached with an un-priced item, let the buyer start the bidding, and with your own hi-lo price in mind, you might be surprised where they start. 

If I have piqued your curiosity as to what this is, stop here and do your own search and see how long it takes you find the answer.  If you are ready to guess or just want to know the answer - click the link to jump to the explanation.

It is a vintage Check Protector. In order to keep checks from being cashed more than once, many elaborate devices were invented to permanently mark, or in this case, mar the paper.  A  deft auditor or CPA could tell from the raised bumps this device would cause, that the check had already been cashed.  There is a great site called the Early Office Museum that has many models in their archives, though this one is not one of them, it led me to identifying its purpose.

As for its true age ...that remains a mystery. I continue to search through Google's scanned ads from the late 19th century hoping for a match.

As for its true value...like all the items on my blog, none are for sale..today anyway. But I did find one on Ebay...of course.

So, the sellers can breath a sigh of relief, they didn't sell the Arc of the Covenant, or an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, but maybe that $24 check used to purchase Manhattan was protected with....? 


  1. It looks like it might have been an embosser of some sort... like a notary 'stamp'.

  2. Ah, I was thinking it was some kind of embossing press. But I can't really see what the plates do? Why don't you compress a sheet of paper in it and show us the result?

    By the way, thanks for the Wonderama clip. I used to dream about getting to be one of the kids on the show. Often, and in color. I was also picked as a volunteer and usually won some cool prize. Wonder(ama) what (de heck) happened to Bob?


  3. The lever might not be as old as you think. I remember using one when I worked for a bank back in the 1960's.

  4. I agree, though I think it speaks well of the stamp's quality, and recalls a time when everything about banking at least seemed more "solid." Thanks for commenting!


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