Monday, February 18, 2013

Less Work for Mother

QUESTION: I recently purchased a box lot of old kitchen gadgets at an estate sale. Some I recognize and others I don’t. What types of gadgets did women use in the kitchen? Are some of these worth anything?

ANSWER: Kitchen gadgets are a popular collectible. And what’s interesting about them is that most are still usable in today’s kitchen. Even with all the electric and electronic devices available to today’s cooks, there are just some things that need to be done by hand, preferably with some sort of gadget. The proliferation of gadgets advertised on T.V. attests to this, even now.

Once upon a time the kitchen was a place where every member of the family gathered informally to take in the daily chores: cooking, weaving, butter making, canning, potato peeling, herb drying, baking, and dish washing. It was always a place of wonderful smells, textures, and colors. For many decades kitchen gadgets could be found to make work easier, to fill a drawer, sit on a shelf or counter top.

The Victorian Age ushered in many useful kitchen gadgets. But during the 1920's through the 1940's, large and small companies manufactured literally hundreds of these gadgets, trying to help make kitchen work easier.

Remember Grandma's cookies? Does your box contain any? Collectors seek them out today. There are all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles. Some had plain wooden handles, others were painted red or green. Plus, every housewife had a biscuit or doughnut cutter. There were even revolving cookie cutters with green wooden handles.

What could be better than homemade pie with homemade crust? Pie crimpers are collectibles now. Most pie crimpers had wooden handles and resembled small versions of today's pizza cutters. Of course, there are many other baking gadgets like dough blenders, pie lifters, rolling pins, and spatulas.

Before food processors and electric beaters, there were efficient hand and mechanical beaters. Among these were a variety of wooden handled spiral whisks, flat wire whips, and, of course, those very efficient rotary beaters. The forerunner to the food processor had to be glass pitcher beaters which came in all shapes and sizes.
With the invention of bottles, jars, and cans came openers. Let’s face it, you couldn't have a can you couldn’t open. Some bottle, can, and jar openers were an all-in-one gadget. The double-handled opener is still a great standby and standard item in many kitchens. Remember the one mounted to the wall with a handle you cranked to open a can? Jars had their own openers called jar lifters or wrenches. They sort of looked like surgeon's devices. And while you can find modern, technically improved versions of these gadgets, the old ones work just as well.

Old choppers and mincers are also popular collectibles. Some of the more popular have wooden handles and stainless steel curved blades. Many of the old ones were made of glass, wood, or steel, not plastic, making them more durable. Some glass jar choppers and mincers had handles to turn, making the work easier and faster. Of course, don’t forget the grinders mounted to the corner of the table. Simply by putting almost anything into the wide opening at the top and turning the handle, you could grind meat, nuts, berries, etc.

Graters, ice cream scoops, ice picks, slicers, juicers, peelers, knives, sharpeners, mashers, ricers, strainers, sifters, scoops, scales, and ladles re also popular collectibles. The list is almost endless.

To make sure some of your kitchen gadgets are really collectible, first note their condition. It’s got to be good—no rust, peeling paint, or missing parts. Second, look for trademarks. Some are wonderfully descriptive, such as The Handy Andy juicer, Hi Speed egg beater, Juice-0-Mat, Chi Chop, Drip-O-Lator, Presto, and Surry Suzy.

Kitchen gadgets are part of our past, a past when the kitchen really was the center of the home.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Drinking With Both Hands

QUESTION: I recently purchased a lovely handleless cup and saucer at an antique show. The dealer couldn’t tell me much about it except that it’s called a tea bowl. It has a beautiful landscape scene on it in a sort of lavender color. What can you tell me about this piece?

ANSWER: What you have is indeed a transferware tea bowl, made in the Staffordshire area of England in the early to mid-19th century.

Before the development of the handled teacup, the British upper classes drank their tea from expensive imported Chinese porcelain tea bowls and saucers. Owning a porcelain cup became a mark of high social status. In fact, many members of British nobility posed for portraits holding their favorite cup and saucer. The teacup or bowl was so important that most people usually carried their own to parties in special leather and satin carrying cases.

The cup, as it's known today, with a handle on the side, wasn't introduced until the 18th century.
Prior to that, hostesses and servants poured tea into a cup with no handles. The person drinking the hot tea then poured it, in small amounts, into a deep saucer and sipped from the saucer. Pouring a small amount into the saucer allowed it to cool just the bit. Also, on cold winter days, the handless tea bowl acted as a hand warmer.

It wasn’t until Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode perfected the mass production of earthenware and porcelain did handled teacups become popular.

At about the same time, English pottery makers in the Staffordshire region introduced a new decorative method, known as  "decalcomania," in which workers applied printed decals or transfers onto  pottery and porcelain wares. This enabled potteries to produce cups and saucers carrying social, political,  and advertising slogans.

The process starts with an engraved copper plate similar to those used for making paper engravings.  The engraver traced the outline onto thin tissue paper and then reproduced it on a sheet of copper using homemade carbon paper. He engraved over this outline with a V-shaped groove and added the details and areas of shading using lines or dots. The idea of using dots, or stipple punching, rather than lines came later in the 18th century. The engraver found the right depth by trial and error, so he took a first print or proof before he reworked the lines and dots to deepen them if necessary. The deeper the engraving, the deeper the deposits of color, thus the darker the result. Engravers created early designs with lines and in uniform dark blue, but as the technique of engraving improved so engravers achieved different tonal qualities and printed in pink, green, lavender, brown, and black inks.

Workers, using inked copper plates would print the pattern onto tissue paper, which then transferred the wet ink to the white ceramic surface. They then fired the ceramic piece in a low temperature kiln to fix the pattern. This could be done over or under the glaze, but the underprinting method was more durable. The process produced fine lines similar to the engraved prints in old books. Before transfer printing, pottery workers handpainted the ceramics, a laborious and costly process.

During the printing process, the printer kept the plate warm by placing it on a circular iron plate or backstone. He then applied the ink to the copper plate, making sure to rub the ink into every dot and line. After scraping off the surplus color, he removed any film of color by rubbing the surface with a corduroy-faced pad. When the  copper plate was clean, he laid the tissue paper coated with a mixture of soft soap and water and passed it through the press's rollers. He then passed the printed image, now in reverse—unlike regular engravings that begin in reverse and appear correct on printing—on to the transfer team, consisting of the transferrer, apprentice, and cutter.

The cutter removed the excess paper leaving only the design pieces. The transferrer laid these pieces, colored by cobalt oxide, on to the ware after its first or biscuit firing, then dipped it in glaze and refired it. A design with an overall pattern would have the center applied first and the border around the rim afterwards. The tackiness of the oily print held it in place while the apprentice rubbed it down vigorously with a stiff-bristled brush using a little soft soap as lubricant.

The apprentice then soaked the earthenware in a tub of water to soften the paper, which he removed by sponging, the oil-based color being unaffected by the water. After drying, an assistant placed the ware into the hardening kiln to fire at 1,250-1,290 F. to remove the oils and secure the color. Afterwards, another worker glazed the piece and placed it into the kiln to be   refired at 1,940-2,010° F.

Engraving for transfer printing reached its peak by 1816. And by 1805, lighter shades of royal blue as well as ultramarine came into use. Though each factory developed its own potting and decorative techniques, considerable copying took place between factories. In addition, each factory experimented with different styles and products changed dramatically over a short time.
Not only did the paste and tone of the underglaze blue vary from factory to factory, but they also varied according to the stage of each factory's development.

To complicate matters, makers constantly introduced new patterns, while shapes of plates, dishes, tureens varied from time to time according to the prevailing trends. When the Chinese-inspired designs lost favor, manufacturers replaced them with European scenes, which they copied from engravings in books. Floral borders resembled each other in general appearance, although most differed in detail.

Today, transfer tea bowls are going for astronomical prices. One is excellent condition, with a perfectly matched design, can fetch upwards of $150-200 in an antique show or shop.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Every Car Had Its Mascot

QUESTION: Way back when, my grandfather owned a 1925 Packard. My father says he loved that car, so much so that he removed the hood ornament from it and kept it as a souvenir when the car no longer worked, and he took it to the junkyard. He gave it to my father, who, in turn, gave it to me. It now sits proudly on my desk. It’s a real beauty, but is it worth anything or am I just being sentimental?

ANSWER: Your hood ornament, a Packard cormorant, is something very special. If you haven’t noticed, cars don’t come with them anymore. At the time your grandfather owned his car, hood ornaments were all the rage. Every car had one—some were extremely elaborate, more like works of art.

Collectors refer to these hood ornaments as automobile mascots. They began as radiator caps at the turn of the 20th century. Automakers added decorative touches to differentiate their vehicles from others during an era when there were 3,000 automobile manufacturers in the U.S. There are now only a handful.

Back when drivers had to negotiate muddy roads and weren’t sure if they’d get back home, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, supposedly brought them good luck. He also protected them from robbers, who prayed on unsuspecting motorists. If you owned a car back then, you had some money.

Birds, chosen by auto makers to convey quick flight, became a common ornament theme. Packard chose a cormorant. Ford chose a quail for its Model A’s and Duesenberg, a stylized bird.

Many collectors consider the stork, used by European automaker Hispano-Suiza, to be the most distinctive and collectible. The stork commemorates French World War I ace Joseph Vuillemin, who had a stork painted on his airplane.

Some auto makers chose to use graceful ladies. Moon Motor Co., a now defunct St. Louis manufacturer, had the Greek goddess Diana on its cars to appeal to women. The glass lady hood ornaments crafted by Lalique before World War II are worth $1,000 to $10,000 depending on subject matter, condition and rarity.

Bugatti Royale selected an elephant balancing on a ball to demonstrate agility. World War I ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacher used an airplane mascot before his auto business failed in the 1920s. Chevrolets also sported airplanes in 1932. Designers for the Lincoln chose a greyhound mascot to dispel rumors that the auto was slow.

Some mascots invented in that time still exist, including Mercedes-Benz's three-point star and the Mack Truck bulldog. The height of hood ornament use was the 1920s and early '30s. By the mid-'30s, they began to fade as the Streamline Moderne movement, which emphasized aerodynamics and eschewed features that slowed down vehicles, caught on. But Mercedes held on to its mascot anyway. The company cared more about prestige than it did aerodynamics.

Other ornaments, such as Cadillac’s Lady, Rolls-Royce’s Flying Lady, Packard’s Cormorant, Desoto’s Explorer and Imperial wings, lasted through the 1950s, though they were much smaller than their  predecessors.

Collecting hood ornaments began in the 1940s when the owners of great old cars like the 1920s Rolls and Packards began scrapping them. Some of the first collectors visited junkyards, armed with screwdrivers and pliers, to hunt for mascots among the wrecks, for which they paid a dollar or so. Today, it’s almost impossible to find them in junkyards—junkyard owners know their value. Today, a typical Chevrolet mascot from the 1950s costs $100.