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posted: 7/7/2012 7:22 AM

Can you help me identify this object I bought at a garage sale?

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By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. Please help me identify this object. It is gold-plated and about 6 inches long. I purchased it at a garage sale. The grandson was disposing of his grandmother's belongings. He was unable to tell me anything about this object and what its purpose might be. Can you tell me what it is and the value?

A. As a general rule, grandsons should find out what their grandmothers' things are and what they are worth before attempting to sell them. In many cases, very valuable objects can be sold for little or nothing simply because the next generation did not trouble itself to find out what a grandparent's precious items should actually fetch in the current marketplace.

There are upscale neighborhoods where garage-sale people eagerly await the putting up of tables in the driveway, and the subsequent hauling out of things that once belonged to some deceased relative just to be rid of the unwanted items. We have seen rare Oriental carpets, 18th-century Meissen figures and important paintings sold for next to nothing because the sellers were clueless about their true worth.

Our advice: Get some professional help before attempting to sell household contents of deceased relatives. It will cost a little, but the information might help the items bring a lot more money than they would have otherwise.

As for the object in today's question, it is not rare and probably not very valuable, but it is interesting. What is it? Well, it is a candle snuffer shaped somewhat like a pair of scissors.

In the days when candles were essential, chamber sticks traditionally had conical snuffers attached to the handle of the small tray. Early on, candles burned but they did not consume the wick as completely as modern candles do. This meant that the wick had to be trimmed after each use.

Scissors-shaped snuffers were used to accomplish this function. They all had a chamber located between the handle and the point, and when the wick was trimmed and the flame extinguished, the little piece of unwanted wick was captured in this boxlike enclosure.

In the 18th century (few of these are known before this), many of these snuffers were made from silver, and some of them had an insert cutting edge of steel because silver does not hold an edge capable of doing the cutting for very long. In the late 18th century, a scissor snuffer might also have had a kind of guillotine action that worked with a spring.

All of these scissor snuffers originally came with a snuffer tray -- some were rectangular, some were rectangular with cut corners, others were rectangular with a waist in the center -- but many are almost hourglass-shaped. These items are collected as a pair, and having just one part of a set will render most collectors uninterested in either the orphaned tray or the orphaned scissor snuffer.

Since there are no markings reported, we feel that this particular snuffer is not sterling silver and is probably silver-plated -- perhaps with a gold wash. It is probably not earlier than the Edwardian era (1900-1910) and may even be later. This snuffer has an insurance value of approximately $75 to $100 if it is circa 1910.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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