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Chalkware Bird Figurine

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Question: This chalkware bird figurine is one of a pair that were given to me by my 97-year-old aunt. I think they previously belonged to my grandmother. The birds are at least 75 years old, if not older. They are in perfect shape except for the beak of the second bird, which is chipped. There are no marks anywhere. What can you tell me about my birds' value and history?

Answer: Italian immigrants are said to have originated molded plaster-of-paris and gypsum figures from 1860 until 1890. Those early hand-painted figures are scarce and much more valuable than their 20th-century counterparts. Painted plaster-of-paris figures like your stylized blue jays were widely available in dime stores in the 1930s and 1940s. They were inexpensive decorative objects. Chalkware figures were also commonly used as prizes at carnival games. A wide variety of chalkware animals from that era can be found, and many popular personalities, including Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, W.C. Fields, the Lone Ranger and Mae West, were depicted in carnival chalkware. Undamaged, your pair of birds would be worth $20 to $40.

-- Tom Hoepf, associate editor of Auction Central News