by Philly Rains
With over 500 pieces in my collection, I am neither the largest nor the most knowledgeable among the collectors in my small circle, but we all agree that there is a need to share what we know.
These stoppers are not rare and don't fit the standards set by other categories, because their production was not limited. Literally thousands and thousands were made and sold in North America and Europe.
While stoppers were made in Germany, Spain, Japan, and other countries, the biggest producer to market them commercially was ANRI in Italy, who manufactured them from 1912 through 1976. The earliest examples incorporated both human and animal figures with wonderful detail, delicate coloring, were both "still" and movable, and they were made in hundreds of styles from heads only to full figured models.
No two were exactly alike as each was carved by hand. The most common models, which continued in production from beginning till end are, "kissing couples", "hat tippers" and "drinkers" which hold either a bottle or a stein in one hand." As years passed, the demand increased for export to countries all over the world, the carvings became cruder, and the colors more garish.
Monofiliment line, like fishing line, began to replace the easily broken cotton string which was used to work some of the movable ones. Less and less detail was carved into the torsos of the stoppers, and the faces began to lose their more humanistic features. The original carvings were actually caricatures of the villagers who carved them, and these were replaced in the mid to late 50's with a common face with few variations. They began to look the same, or have what we call "the puppet face".
By the middle 60's the company was only producing a few dozen models, what we call "commons" and in the final years very few animals were being made at all.
When I first started picking them up in the 70's they usually cost around $6 or $8, which was many times their original selling price of less than $1 each. We know that many of the ones that can be found today were sold in gift shops after World War I, or brought back from trips abroad, and given as gifts or kept as souvenirs. They were small, and easy to pack, and they were good gifts because they were not only cute, but they were useful.
The same Italian company made bottle openers, corkscrews, nutcrackers, bar sets, and a jillion other wonderful things, all useful, and in my opinion all minor works of art, not because of their price, but because of the quality of the workmanship, and the skill of the carvers. I still think that they are wonderful. I love them because of their little faces, their expressions and because they make me smile. Most of the collectors in my circle are only interested in the earliest models.
But are they "valuable?" Like anything any of you who are reading this know, their value is for us to decide. I've spent as little as $2. and as much as $45. In fact, I paid quite a bit more than that for a Santa Claus stopper because I wanted it in my collection, but was it "worth" it? It was to me, and it obviously wasn't worth more to the person I bought it from, but I don't "value" that one any higher than I do the one for which I paid two dollars.
In my opinion, and I offer it humbly as the opinion of one small collector among the multitudes, "value" is determined by the person who is buying, and "price" is determined by the person selling. Somewhere between the two is where the antique and collectible business should rest and thrive.
for more information buy Philly Rains' book:
ANRI Woodcarvings: Bottle Stoppers, Corkscrews, Nutcrackers, Toothpick Holders, Smoking Accessories, and More by Philly Rains and Donald Bull has over 800 color photographs picturing more than 2500 ANRI carvings with detailed information. It is a 272 page, 8 1/2" x 11", four pound, hardbound book.