Early 20th-Century Prison Art Train Model

Value (2012) | $4,500 Retail$6,000 Retail

This piece was a housewarming present from my grandfather to my father. When we built our first house and I was five years old. Grandfather was an overseer in a prison. He had a chance to buy this made by a prisoner, and I believe according to my grandfather's writings, it was $17.

And where was that prison?

In Wethersfield, Connecticut.

And it was made at the prison?

Yeah, in the prisoner's spare time, and I guess they gave them knives in those days because he said it was made with a little knife.

Many times when we see prison art, it's usually things that are made out of pieces of wood that were given to the prisoners, and the pieces were assembled. A perfect example would be a lamp made out of popsicle sticks.

Yeah, (laughing) exactly.

This is a fully developed model. It is a very sophisticated piece, so the person who made this was really, in a way, showing off that he had tremendous woodworking skills. Now, do you know in what area of the prison he was an overseer?

In the shoe department. They made their own shoes, and he was a shoemaker.

Which kind of gives credibility to the fact that he had access to tools.

Yeah, yeah.

And my guess is it probably took him a year to make.

Two years.

Two years to make? Well, good. Wonderful piece of folk art. What I love most about it is this gear box down here. So when you turn this wheel, it engages the gear. And the entire locomotive rotates 360 degrees. So you don't have to pick it up to look at it. You just turn that wheel, and it rotates. That shows a real degree of sophistication as far as the maker is concerned. The work is tight, it's beautifully carved. He chose three or four different types of wood, as you can see. And it's just perfect proportions. I love the way he painted this white over here. The whole cow catcher here. And it's just beautiful. So as a wonderful piece of folk art, in a retail environment, this would probably sell in the area of $4,500 to $6,000.

Wow. I'm so glad to know that.

Appraisal Details

Allan Katz Americana
Woodbridge, CT
Appraised value (2012)
$4,500 Retail$6,000 Retail
Corpus Christi, TX (August 04, 2012)
20th Century

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