Phyllis Ries: Her Glass Baton

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

What’s next—the Antique Roadshow?

Don’t count on it. It took enough prodding just to convince Phyllis Ries to contact the “Trash or Treasure” feature in the Detroit News.

Here’s the thing: Phyllis owns an oddity. She has a very unique hundred-year-old glass rod standing in the corner of her living room. It’s hardly a priceless antique, but she couldn’t care less about the value of the item. She’s not about to sell it anyway.

phyllis-

The six-foot glass baton catches the attention of her friends, Bob and Jackie Green, every now and then. They’ve seen the thing leaning in the corner for years, and they finally suggested sending in a photo to the News.

Every Saturday in the News’ Homestyle section, an item is featured that could be worth a lot of money (a treasure) or it could simply be an interesting artifact (trash).

Phyllis finally agreed to send in a photo of the baton, and a couple of months passed before she heard back from the News’ staff. She was invited to bring it in for an appraisal at one of two art galleries in the Detroit area.

“I wasn’t even going to go,” she said, “but Roger [her husband] and Connie [her daughter] kept pestering me about it.”

She finally relented, but not before having Morenci’s Alister MacDonald take a look. He considered it a very interesting item, but he couldn’t find anything to identify it in books about glass.

The Ries’s chose to visit the Boos Gallery in Bloomfield Hills since it was the closer of the two listed. Roger went to work creating a carrying case for a safe trip to the city. He bought a six-foot section of conduit pipe and caps for each end. He lined the interior with sponge for padding.

“That thing could have gone to Siberia,” Phyllis said.

Phyllis felt a little peculiar walking in with her six-foot package. There were nine other items to be looked over that day, so the Ries’s took a seat and waited their turn.

The first thing Phyllis learned was to stop calling it a cane. She was told that it actually a baton.

“It’s a beautiful piece,” the appraiser said. “I’ve seen canes, but I’ve never seen a baton like this before, and I’ve never seen the candy stripe pattern.”

Those stripes are what fascinated Phyllis as a child. Spin the baton clockwise and it gives the illusion of being drilled right into the floor.

The appraiser guessed the piece was from the late 1800s or early 1900s.

A gift for Phyllis

“My dad worked as a paymaster for the railroad,” Phyllis said. “He was in Holloway and became acquainted with a family, and he often stayed with them.”

Phyllis sometimes spent the night there, also, back when she was about five years old. Sometimes the hostess, Ida Schwab, would get out the baton and spin it.

“As a kid, I thought that was lovely,” Phyllis said.

It was Ida’s great aunt who first acquired the glass piece. Ida said the woman was riding in a streetcar with her boyfriend somewhere in Ohio when she spotted the item and said that she wanted it. Her boyfriend bought it for her and eventually it was passed on to Ida.

The details are a little sketchy, and Phyllis wishes she had listened better. Ida had no children of her own and she told Phyllis that someday the baton would be hers.

About 20 years ago when Ida was preparing to move into a rest home, she called Phyllis and told her to come and pick it up.

“We brought it home and Roger asked, ‘Where on Earth are we going to keep this?’ I just stuck it in the corner and figured we’d find a place for it.”

Other than its brief visit to Bloomfield Hills, that’s where it’s remained ever since.

Phyllis has no idea if the baton will ever be featured in Homestyle. If it does, she might end up learning more about the piece and she might get a purchase offer from someone. She’ll ignore that offer and leave the baton right in her corner.

“I’m never going to sell it,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter to me what it’s worth.”

It’s just an interesting relic from her childhood, and every so often she’ll give it a spin and watch as it bores its way into the floor.

  –  May 21, 2003 
 

 

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