Antiques

Behold: Belfast's Boozy Cure-All!

The latest installment of our appraisal series considers this and other Maine-y treasures.

TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
Art Deco solid-brass plaque
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson

I bought this 72-inch-long, solid-brass plaque in the late ’90s from a now-defunct antiques dealer on Commercial Street in Portland. I was told it might have been created for a bank. Beyond that, I know nothing other than that I treasure it. — Candace Karu, Portland

The Maine map, with Portland prominently highlighted, and grand Art Deco styling on this architectural piece suggest that it did indeed grace a bank or similarly important early-20th-century building, probably in the Forest City. It was likely crafted using the ancient lost-wax casting process, in which molten metal is poured into a mold created with a wax model, then the wax is melted and drained away, resulting in fine, crisp details. Given the local focus, size, and quality of the piece, “I would expect some pretty competitive bidding if it went to auction,” says Andrew Davis, of Casco Bay Auctions, in Freeport.

Davis’s appraisal: $2,000–$3,000

wrought-iron roofing tool
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson

We found this at Liberty Tool, in Liberty, one of our favorite places to browse. We have no idea what it is, but we thought it would look good hanging next to our front door. — Richard Leslie, Yarmouth

This is likely a wrought-iron roofing tool used for prying slate shingles — nails and all — from late-19th-century homes. The handle indicates a post–Industrial Revolution piece crafted from a factory-made rod that was heated, bent, and soldered to a claw-like base, versus hammered from a single piece of metal, says Bruce Gamage, of Rockland’s Gamage Antiques. Davis notes the implement would also have been handy for chipping ice from massive blocks in the pre-refrigeration era.

Gamage’s appraisal: $75

Advertisement

Skoda's Discovery box
Photographed by Susie Holmes

I have two wooden box tops advertising a “medicine” from Belfast that I picked up for $2 apiece at a Cape Cod yard sale. I’d love to know their history. — Susie Holmes, Yarmouthport, Massachusetts

In the late 19th century, scads of companies sold “patented” elixirs, “nearly all with dubious claims to cure everything from stomachache to hair loss,” Davis says. An ad for Skoda’s Discovery, established in Belfast and reportedly named after a prominent European physician, featured a Mrs. Captain J.E. Melvin, of Rockland, who claimed to suffer from “extreme constipation” and paralysis. But halfway through the suggested six-bottle course of Skoda’s, she was on the mend! Along with the advertised sarsaparilla, Skoda’s tonic bottles may have contained nearly as much alcohol as the day’s bootleg-whiskey bottles, and possibly stronger ingredients. The company opened a short-lived second factory in Nova Scotia in 1891 and ceased operations around the time the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act banned the sale of snake oil, among other products.

Davis’s appraisal: $30–$50

James A. Elliott painting
Photographed by Clinton B. Cunningham

My dad owned an Esso gas station in Brunswick, and, around 1952, local artist James A. Elliott swapped his Pinnacle Rock painting and another of West Point, Maine, for four new tires. A few years later, he asked to buy this one back, saying it was his masterpiece, but my mother loved it too much to part with it. — Clinton B. Cunningham, Grand Blanc, Michigan

James A. Elliott was a talented, probably successful-in-his-time artist, Gamage says — no wonder your mother didn’t want to give up this watercolor. His auction record, however, is spotty, with one painting Gamage views as slightly inferior to yours selling for $800 and others going unsold. “The art world is basically who you are and whether you got promoted,” Gamage says. “If Nelson Rockefeller bought a James Elliott and told his friends the Rothschilds about it, it would be a $50,000 watercolor.” The fact that the Maine art scene is saturated with seascapes also depresses the value of this fine piece.

Gamage’s appraisal: $1,000

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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *