Monday, October 22, 2012

The Enduring Beauty of Lace

QUESTION: Recently, I was going through an old trunk in my grandmother’s attic and discovered several beautiful old lace tablecloths. One of them had a label which read “Quaker Lace Co.” Can you tell me anything about this company and whether these old tablecloths are worth anything?

ANSWER: In the past decade or so, vintage linens have gained in popularity. Fine old lace ones are in rather high demand, as people seek to bring back the nostalgic beauty of bygone eras.

Finely patterned handmade lace has been available for centuries. However, lace tablecloths have only been used since the latter part of the 19th century, after the invention of mechanical lace-making looms. Traditionally, making lace by hand was a labor intensive process, but with the mechanical looms, it became possible to produce lace wide enough for tablecloths.

Taking care of fine lace tablecloths required extra help, so when domestic servants began to disappear from middle-class homes, so, too, did high- maintenance lace linens. But a new generation of housekeepers have discovered the beauty and elegance of lace. They tend to use fine lace tablecloths to dress up their dinner tables for special occasions.

While many of these fine old pieces were handmade and can cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, others were mechanically produced by companies such as the Quaker Lace Company of Philadelphia. Those produced by the company from 1880 to about 1913 are highly desired by collectors. To collectors, it doesn’t matter whether a lace tablecloth is handmade or machine-made or simple or ornate. Vintage Quaker Lace pieces sell for $10 to $200, with the average price being around $60-100 for a large tablecloth big enough to fit a table for 12.

Originally founded in 1889 as the Bromley Manufacturing Company by the three sons of John Bromley, an English carpet maker who came to the United Sates in the 1840s and became successful in textiles. The Bromley brothers used the profits from their carpet manufacturing business to purchase looms from Nottingham, England to produce machine-made lace. In 1894, the Bromley brothers purchased a factory on 4th Street and Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, and renamed their company Lehigh Manufacturing. A bit later, they opened a second factory on 22nd Street and Lehigh Avenue. In 1911 they renamed their operation once again the Quaker Lace Company.

Quaker Lace became the leader in machine-made lace. Their lace was durable, resisted stretching and pulling, and could withstand washing without losing its shape or transparency. In 1987 they closed their  4th Street factory, but continued to produce tablecloths at plants in Lionville, Pennsylvania, and Winthrop, Maine. The company continually researched and invented new ways of chemically treating their lace so that it would maintain its shape. The Bromleys sold their tablecloths mainly in department stores, but when many of them began to close, the company’s profits declined. The company had to  declare bankruptcy in 1992. Lorraine Linens purchased the patterns and Quaker Lace name and  continued to manufacture lace tablecloths until 2007 when it, too, filed for bankruptcy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monopoly Way Back When

QUESTION: I recently purchased a box lot at a country auction. In it I discovered a piece of oil cloth on which seems to be drawn a game board much like the one used for Monopoly. However, the names of the streets aren’t the same. Can you tell me anything about this?

ANSWER: What you’ve uncovered is an old game board from the early days of Monopoly.  Before Charles Darrow of Philadelphia commercialized the game and sold the rights to Parker Brothers, people made up their own game boards and used odds and ends for playing pieces.

It all began when Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie Phillips created a game called “The Landlord’s Game” in 1904. As a proponent of the economic ideas of Henry George, she designed her game to teach the single-tax theory as an antidote to the evils inherent in monopolistic land ownership. It caught on with college students who played it in their dormitory rooms. But since they were often low on cash, they made their own boards.

The Landlord’s Game came in two parts: The first was like Monopoly, a game in which there’s only one winner. But in the second part the game employs the same capitalistic principles but mixes them with a healthy dose of tax reform, to prevent the evils of monopolistic ownership, and then transforms all the players into enlightened winners.

While the game board resembles the one for Monopoly, the names, drawings, colors and the like used on it are different. It’s painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (rent $50), "Easy Street" (rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " (no trespassing - go to jail). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing it) and the "PDQ Railroad" (fare $100). And, of course, there’s the famous "Jail" block. Players could only rent properties on Phillips's board, not acquire them. Otherwise, there’s little difference between The Landlord’s Game and the Monopoly of today.

After Phillips published her game in 1923, it became popular as a grass roots movement. One of the people who became addicted to the game was Ruth Hoskins, a young Quaker woman from Indiana who went to teach at the Atlantic City Friends School in the Fall of 1929. Earlier that year, she learned to play a version of the Landlord's Game, called Auction Monopoly, from her brother, who learned it at college. Early in 1930, Hoskins taught it to her fellow teacher Cyril Harvey and his wife, Ruth, and the Harveys played it with their friends Jesse and Dorothea Raiford. It was Ruth Harvey who drew the first Atlantic City Monopoly board with Atlantic City street names.

The Harveys lent their games to Quakers staying at Atlantic City hotels and also taught their relatives, Ruth and Eugene Raiford, who, in turn taught their friend, Charles Todd, a manager of one of the hotels. Todd then taught the game to his hotel guests Esther and Charles Darrow.

Darrow liked the game so much, he enhanced the design and made 5,000 sets by hand in his basement. He sold these to Wanamaker’s, a highly regarded Philadelphia department store, as well as F.A.O. Schwartz, New York’s famous toy store. A friend of Sally Barton, the wife of the president of Parker Brothers, told her about this new game and the rest, as they say, is history.

The royalties from sales of Monopoly soon made Darrow a millionaire and newspapers touted Darrow as the inventor of Monopoly. And while he made lots of money from it, all he did was organize the game and sell it. Since Phillips had actually created a different game, albeit similar, she had no rights to the game of Monopoly, which had been developed by many people over time, much like the Linux operating system for computers.

For more information, read Pass Go and Collect on Early Monopoly Games.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Close Cover Before Striking

QUESTION: My grandfather left me his collection of match safes. All I know about them is that they held matches to keep them dry. Some of his are extremely ornate. What can you tell me about them?

ANSWER: Yes,  match safes did help keep matches dry, but they also served another purpose—they helped keep the bearer safe. Early matches were prone to igniting from rubbing against one another or spontaneously, so most people carried a match safe to house their matches. Between 1890 and 1920, most people carried strike-anywhere matches, so they could light stoves, lanterns and other devices. By then the pocket match book, invented by Joshua Pusey, had become popular.

John Walker, an English druggist in Stockton-on-Tees, England, made the first friction match in 1826. He  called his invention "friction light." The first containers Walker used to hold the matches he made and sold in his chemist’s shop were round canister-shaped tin boxes that cost two pence each and held 100 matches. Since there was no roughened surface on the boxes to ignite the matches, he inserted a piece of sandpaper for that purpose. Unfortunately, Walker never patented his invention.

Three years later, Samuel Jones sold a similar product with the catchier name  "Lucifers.” Soon after, Charles Sauna invented a phosphorus match in France and by 1836 phosphorus matches patented by Alonzo Dwight Phillips of Massachusetts became available in the United States. By 1840, friction matches were in common use.

There are numerous varieties of pocket match safes—figural, advertising, combination boxes, and trick or puzzle boxes. Manufacturers also produced wall match safes, designed to hold loose matches or a box of matches, as well as table top match safes, match box holders, and match grips, usually mounted on a standing ashtray, which were three-sided and gripped the match box. Early pocket match safes were merely functional and plain in their styling, but later on they became ornate accessories, much like jewelry.

While there’s an endless variety of figural pocket match safes out there, that is those featuring a person or animal or some sort of object, there are many more featuring advertising. Just as today's matchbooks usually contain ads on their front and back covers, pocket match safes often featured advertising, but in the form of a particular shape or perhaps a slogan, such as those given away as souvenirs of restaurants and hotels. Manufacturers of all sorts of items gave away match safes much the way companies today give away pens or business card holders. Mythological figures and salon art were popular subjects.

Some advertising match safes started out as product sample boxes. These contained samples of gramophone needles, pens, tea, cocoa, razor blade, and tobacco samples. After a person used up the  samples, they could use the box in which it came as a match safe. This also ensured a greater longevity for the ads.

In the United States, one of the most prolific manufacturers of match safes was the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Others included William B. Kerr, Unger Brothers, Battin, Blackington, Whiting, George Scheibler and Shreve & Co.

Match safes come in all sorts of shapes and patterns, from plain and decorated square, oblong and round cases, to a myriad of novelty shape made of silver, gold, brass, tin, gunmetal, nickel silver, ivory,  white metal, and even wood and porcelain. However, most were made of inexpensive materials. Those made of precious metals usually had a gold wash interior to prevent corrosion by the chemically active match heads.

Most later match safes came with a ribbed surface on the bottom for lighting the matches. Some match safes incorporated a cigar cutter or a small knife blade as well. While most people carried them in their pockets, gentlemen often suspended them from a fob chain.