Ralph Kovel: A legend in his own time

Ralph M. Kovel, age 88, nationally known antiques author and expert, died Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008, in Cleveland.

In the early 1950s, Kovel came up with the idea of publishing a book that indexed antiques by the factory-specific marks found on the bottom of the pottery. He and his wife, Terry, became nationally known with the publication of their first book, Dictionary of Marks: Pottery & Porcelain, published in 1953. The book led to a weekly question-and-answer column, “Kovels: Antiques & Collecting,” syndicated in 1954, which still runs in more than 150 newspapers. It was also the first of 97 books that the couple would co-author.

Ralph Kovel was born in Milwaukee. He moved with his family to Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in the 1930s. A Cleveland Heights High School graduate, he attended the Ohio State University, and later taught courses in antiques at Case Western Reserve and John Carroll universities.

Kovel was a food broker at the same time he found success with antiques. In the late 1970s, he purchased a small Cleveland company called Sar-A-Lee. The company was sold in 1989 to Sara Lee Corporation, where he continued as Senior Vice-President of Sara Lee Coffee and Tea’s Foods Division until 2000. He never retired. He was president of U.S. Brands, Inc., a Beachwood-based direct marketing firm, president of Lucayan Aquaculture, a shrimp farm in the Bahamas, and R & R Rossters, Inc., a restaurant in Cleveland.

Ralph and Terry Kovel were featured in their own television series on public television, the Discovery Channel and, most recently, on HGTV (Home and Garden Television Network). They wrote columns for Forbes Magazine and House Beautiful. Their articles have appeared in Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Redbook, Town and Country, Giftware News and many antiques-related publications. They contributed the “Art, Antiques and Collections: Collectibles” section for Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year and were once the prize for a Publishers’ Clearing House contest.

Their best-known book, Kovels’ Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide, has been published annually since 1968. The 2009 edition was just released. In 1974 the couple began to publish a monthly newsletter, Kovels on Antiques and Collectibles. Their subscription-based newsletter has over 60,000 subscribers and is available in a digital version on the website, Kovels.com, which is visited by over a quarter of a million readers each month.

Ralph Kovel served on the boards of trustees of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Western Reserve Historical Society, and Public Broadcasting stations WVIZ-TV and WCPN-NPR. He won numerous awards for his public service and two Cleveland Emmys for his television work.

Kyle Husfloen remembers, “Ralph and Terry were truly pioneers in broadening the public interest in the field of antiques and collectibles. One of the first books I received when I started collecting in the 1960s was their Know Your Antiques, which I found very interesting and useful. I also recall watching episodes of their early TV shows on Public Television some 35 years ago. Their many contributions to the understanding and appreciation of all sorts of collecting have been immeasurable. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ralph Kovel. My sympathy goes out to Terry and her family and I know they will continue the Kovels’ tradition of sharing their knowledge and expertise with the collecting community.”

The entire Antique Trader staff sends deepest condolences to the Kovel family.

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Ralph Kovel, co-author of Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide, among many other titles.

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