Antiques & Collectibles: Personal message may enhance notable artist's gift

Franz de Merlier signed a personal message to the recipient and his family on this oil painting circa 1936. De Merilier’s art has sold for $225 to $6,000 at auction during the past decade.

Question: Attached are front and back photos of a 9-inch by 12-inch oil painting by Franz de Merlier. It bears a 1936 personal inscription to my great-grandfather, John G. Zook, publisher of a weekly Pennsylvania newspaper, the Lititz Express. Please tell me what you can about the picture, its artist and value. - C.W., Manahawkin

Answer: Born in Ghent, Belgium, Franz de Merlier (1878-1974) was an artist, teacher, writer and lecturer who eventually settled among the Mennonite farms of Lititz, Pa. There he painted award-winning art featuring wooded landscapes, waterscapes and country dwellings. A talented muralist, de Merlier is noted as having created foyer mural decoration for the Lititz Mutual Insurance Co. building.

The warm personal message your great-grandfather and his family received from the artist indicates a close friendship, the possible result of a business relationship. In addition to ownership of The Lititz Express, John G. Zook is listed as owner of the Express Printing Co., Book and Job Printers and Publishers. In that capacity he may have published the artist's autobiography and other writings as well as art prints. Interestingly, the inscription on your picture is dated shortly before the Lititz Express was sold and renamed the Lititz Record Express, presently among today's leading weekly community newspapers.

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During the past decade, de Merlier's oil paintings on canvas or board and a watercolor have sold for sums ranging from $225 to $6,000, based on size, subject and frame. Since it is possible the hand-written message increases your piece's worth, you may want to contact specialists who have sold de Merlier art at Pook & Pook, Inc. auction house, Dilworthtown, Pa. ( Also, staff at Brandywine River Museum Chadds Ford, Pa., where de Merlier's art was exhibited from January through March 1982, could have more information about the artist and his work. Contact museum staff at

Question: My photo shows a set of six teddy bears dressed as "Wizard of Oz" characters. Bought at a church auction years ago, they range from 8 to 11 inches tall, and are in perfect conditon. Characters include Dorothy with Toto, Glinda, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Wicked Witch, each in an original box marked, "Jaymar Creations." Infor-mation about the set is appreciated. - H.B., Mays Landing

Answer: Your "Wizard of Oz" artist bears set, one of an edition limited to two years production, was designed by Julie and Terry Folks, an Idaho couple. Distributed by Jaymar, the cleverly costumed Schulte German mohair characters are one of several Oz teddy sets generated as a result of widespread interest in the 50th anniversary celebration of MGM's magical "Wizard of Oz" movie.

The recently launched 75th anniversary celebration of MGM's Oz masterpiece soon may attract additional interest in collectibles associated with the movie. Set in motion on Sept. 20 by the introduction of an IMAX 3D version of "The Wizard of Oz" and inclusion of Oz toys with McDonalds Happy Meals, the observance involves participation of significant collectibles-related sponsors such as Mattel, Steiff, QVC and other companies. They will make and promote commemorative anniversary items ranging from toys and games to art and artifacts until the celebration ends in November at the 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

Although teddy bear and Oz collectors were paying $150 to $200 for Folks Oz sets such as yours several years ago, recently renewed interest in Oz and its enchanting cast of characters could add to their value.

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 1000 W. Washington Ave., Pleasantville, N.J. 08232. Email:

Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually. Photos cannot be returned.

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