Question: The pictured cards are part of a boxed deck I bought at a tag sale. There are 52 gold-edged playing cards and one marked "Life Card." "68x The Nile Fortune Cards" is printed in gold on the deck's two-part, dark blue box. Please provide information about the deck and its value. - E.S., Avalon
Answer: Your purchase is a set of fortunetelling cards produced by The United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati. Founded in 1867 as Russell, Morgan & Co., a printing partnership, the firm began making playing cards in 1881. The company's name was changed in 1894, following the worldwide success of its best-selling "Bicycle" cards. Presently located in Kentucky, it produces and distributes playing cards as well as novelty card games and game accessories.
Initially copyrighted in 1897, The Nile Fortune Cards were an updated version of fortunetelling games played in Victorian parlors from the mid-1800s. Driven by growing fascination with the occult, such pastimes included tea-leaf reading and divination using Tarot or playing cards. Included with every set of Nile Fortune Cards was a small instruction booklet that explained the procedure employed to interpret each card's message.
The design on the back of your cards, a pair of sphinxes, pyramids, stylized lotus blossoms and serpents, is found on Nile sets made from the early 1900s to the 1920s. Inspired by emerging interest in archaeology and the discovery of ancient Egyptian tombs, the motifs were favorite forms of decoration then.
Collectors whose specialty is fortunetelling cards or occult items pay $100 to $125 for pristine Nile Fortune Cards made before 1925 when the set is complete with instructions and in a perfect box. Most boxed sets in very good condition are selling for $45 to $60, while worn sets without a box bring $10 to $15.
Question: My old, painted metal cigarette lighter is 4 inches high, shaped like a penguin, has a hinged head cover and stands on a green base. "Light Up a Kool" is written across the penguin's chest. Please tell me what you can about it. - R.C., Buena
Answer: You have described a Willie the Penguin lighter, an advertising piece associated with Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company's mentholated Kool cigarettes. Intro-duced during the early 1930s, Willie, dressed in top hat and bow tie, appeared in Kool ads until the late 1950s.
Your vintage lighter will attract folks who collect advertising or tobacco-related items. If the lighter works and is in excellent condition with a perfect chest decal, it is valued at $150 to $200.
Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist whose consulting firm, Treasures Unlimited, is based in southern New Jersey. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 11 Devins Lane, Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.