Monday, March 25, 2013

Sweet Storage

QUESTION: My mother has a cabinet and has been wondering what it is. Whatever you can tell me about it would be grand.

ANSWER: Your mother’s cabinet is often referred to as a jelly cupboard. However, it seems that this name may have been a more recent reference invented by antique dealers to give these rather primitive cabinets some panache.

Before the advent of built-ins, the only means of storage in 19th and early 20th-century kitchens was separate cabinets. These held pots and pans, foodstuffs, preserves and such. One of the smaller cupboards, often one that stood in a corner, was the jelly cupboard, created to store jellies and preserves and jarred vegetables.

During the late 18th century, many a colonial kitchens had a large hutch/cupboard that featured an upper section with narrow shelves for holding pewter plates and spoons. The lower section held shelves enclosed in a single or double-doored cabinet in which wives stored foodstuffs.
Often a large serving shelf separated the two sections.

But between 1800 and 1825, smaller cupboards with a single door came into widespread use. These varied in styles from extremely primitive affairs, used in rural kitchens, to more refined ones for upper class kitchens. The specifics of such pieces varied from maker to maker and from region to region, but all were meant to store jams and jellies, which had become a staple in American homes.

Typically, jelly cupboards featured two drawers above double doors which opened outward from the center. But the variations were endless since the makers of these cupboards customized them to their needs.

Inside, the cupboards had shelves set only high enough apart as to accommodate jars of jellies or preserves.  This allowed makers to permanently affix more of them into the interior of the  cupboard. Most had wooden latches but better ones featured metal hardware and locks. Most people didn’t lock their jelly cupboards but may have locked the drawers in which they stored spices, tea, and sugar, above the cabinet portion. Early on, tea and sugar were both expensive commodities and had to be protected.

Generally, most women kept their jelly cupboards in their kitchens during the 19th century since they prepared their jellies and preserves there and having the storage cabinet close by was more convenient. Towards the end of the 1800s, however, some placed in their dining rooms. This practice demanded better looking cupboards that often doubled as a place to keep foods while serving dinner.

Jelly cupboard makers responded by using better quality construction, better woods, and better hardware.

Surviving examples exist in a wide variety of woods. Though pine is probably the most common, cabinetmakers also employed birch, butternut, cherry, chestnut, maple, poplar, oak, and walnut. At times they used two different woods, such as pine and poplar, for their cabinets.

According to furniture historians, jelly cupboards used in kitchens were usually taller than those used in dining rooms, which tended to be shorter and wider. Kitchen cupboards were usually vertical affairs up to 72 inches tall while those used in dining rooms tended to be about 45 inches tall and perhaps 60 inches wide.

To cover up less expensive woods, jelly cupboard makers often painted them in decorative colors, including robin’s egg blue, gray, sea green, barn red, and sometimes pale yellow.

At their peak during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, makers dovetailed the drawers and permanently mounted the shelves. But some later models featured adjustable shelves. As late as the 1920s Montgomery Ward's mail order catalog offered a basic jelly cupboard, 34 inches wide and 60 inches tall, with a single drawer above two doors constructed of seasoned oak and with adjustable shelves for $9.95.  Sears Roebuck had similar models.

Though this jelly cupboard is one of the good ones, the primitive ones are easy to fake. It doesn’t take too much imagination, a few pieces of old weathered wood, and some old nails to fashion what looks like a charming old jelly cupboard. With even primitive ones selling for $400-500, it’s no wonder there are some great new “antiques” on the market.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Little Beaded Bag

QUESTION: I recently purchased a little beaded bag at an antique show. It’s so delicate and finely done. Can you tell me how I might figure out how old it is and perhaps something about beaded bags in general?

ANSWER: After years of languishing in attic trunks and flea markets, antique beaded bags have become among the most sought after collectibles. This has caused prices, and thus value to soar in recent years.

Until the 16th century, women wore purses dangling from the waist. By the 17th century, flat tapestry or embroidered wallets were common. But by the late 18th century, the hand-carried framed or drawstring purse or handbag had appeared. Especially prized were French sable beaded bags made of beads so tiny it took about 1,000 to make a square inch. Designs included commemorative scenes like the first balloon flight in 1783.

In the early 19th century, women began carrying their indispensables—handkerchief, fan, perfume bottle—in little drawstring bags made of fabric. Often elaborately trimmed with beads or lace, they called them "reticules." So popular was the reticule that it became an absolute "must" for fashionable ladies of the 19th century.

Between 1820 and 1830, beaded bags supported by metal frames came into vogue. Coming primarily from France and Austria, the frames were made of everything from pinchbeck, an alloy of cooper and zinc made to look like gold, to tortoiseshell. Makers attached chains, often formed of decorative, ornate links,  to the frames.

Floral beaded purses flourished from the mid to late 1800s. At that time, milliners, perfumers, and trinket shops sold beaded purses,, but Victorian ladies, who prided themselves on their fancywork, often made their own from patterns found in Godey's Lady's Book and other fashion publications. They particularly favored floral designs of tulips, roses, lilies, and forget-me-nots in bouquets or strewn across a solid background of beads. Only the most experienced beaders attempted intricate landscape, Biblical, and figurative motifs. The finer the beads used, the more tapestry-like the appearance.

By the early 20th century, beaded bags had become increasingly fashionable. Frames were more ornate, often made of solid gold, sterling silver, nickel, amber, ivory, or celluloid and often heavily engraved or embossed, embellished with gemstones, filigree, pearls or enamel work.

The criteria for judging a purse's value include condition, rarity, bead size, complexity of pattern, and the uniqueness of the frame. Some of these frames are remarkably detailed works on their own, ornately executed in silver, wrought gold, or brass, and inset with tiny stones and pearls. Each bag has its own personality. Some are very regal and elegant while others are more simple, homespun pieces.

Dating a beaded bag can be a challenge since newer bags are often made with older beads. For instance, beads from the early 19th century might be used to decorate bags made in the 1920s. And while a bag's frame can sometimes provide clues to its age, not even this is foolproof.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Long May They Wave

QUESTION: A friend of mine gave me several circus pennants that she found at a yard sale. She knew that I liked items from the circus and thought I might like them. I have several other items that I’ve purchased as souvenirs at circuses over the years. Are these circus items collectible, and if so, are these pennants worth anything?

ANSWER: Americans have been in love with the circus for over 200 years. And for more than half that time have been buying souvenirs to remind them of that brief moment of fantasy when the circus came to town.

Circus pennants have been sold at the circus for nearly 100 years.  They promoted both the circus selling them and some of the individual acts and stars. Just about all the famous circus acts have had their names blazoned across a pennant at one time or other. Hopalong Cassidy, who made his name on television in the 1950s, toured with the Cole Brothers Circus. A pennant with his likeness is worth a cool $150 today. The navy blue felt pennant with a white illustration of Hoppy on his horse, Topper, features his name in rope script along with the Cole Brothers Circus name.

Roy Rogers had his own show, the Roy Rogers Thrill Circus, in the late 1940s. He’s pictured on a 28-inch pennant, today valued at about $110, riding a bucking bronco.

The history of flying a pennant dates back to the days of chivalry.  As time went on, they became associated with the naval war ships and eventually sports teams. Essentially, a pennant in the general sense is an elongated triangular commemorative flag. Traditionally, pennant manufacturers made them of felt and fashioned them in the official colors of a particular team. They usually displayed the team’s mascot symbol, as well as the team name on the pennants. Workers stitched or silk-screened the images onto the pennants in contrasting colors. As sports pennants became popular, other organizations like circuses began selling them as souvenirs.

But for circuses, the pennant was all about promotion. P.T. Barnum was the undisputed master of that. In 1872, he decided to increase the size of his show.  By adding a second ring in a larger tent, he could double his capacity. He scoured the world for unusual acts to present to make his circus better than all the others. Eventually, Barnum added a center ring, and began promoting the acts appearing in it. He used pennants and other souvenirs to promote these acts so people would come back year after year to see his show.

In the early 20th century, the five Ringling Brothers from Baraboo, Wisconsin entered the circus arena and everything changed. In the proud tradition of overstatement, they superseded even P.T. Barnum and soon their shows became the Greatest Show on Earth. It alone is responsible for many of the circus collectible items on the market today.

And while Ringling Brothers souvenirs are collectible, most collectors seek out the more obscure little shows that traveled the back roads of middle America. To them, these represent the real world of the circus.
Read about the history of the American circus poster.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Spoonful of Memories

QUESTION: I was recently going through a box of junk that belonged to my grandfather and in it I discovered a silver spoon with the name Rolex on the handle. It had the Rolex crown at the top with the word Rolex under it. On the back it said Bucherer Switzerland. It this any affiliation with the watch company? What can you tell me about this spoon?

ANSWER: You found a Rolex souvenir spoon, given to the purchaser of a Rolex watch from Bucherer Jewelers in Lucerne, Switzerland. Customers only received one of these spoons after they bought a Rolex. Bucherer never sold the spoons separately.

Besides its main store in Lucerne, Buckerer has outlets in major luxury hotels in other cities. These hotels often gave their guests silverplated Rolex spoons as a welcome gift, hoping that they would purchase a Rolex to take home. Though Rolex Geneva wholly endorses the marketing effort by Bucherer, the company doesn’t make the spoons.

The spoons feature the names of eight different cities—Lucerne, Lugano, Basel, Zurich, Interlaken, Geneva, and others—where Bucherer has a store. The Lucerne spoon is the most common. The one marked "New York" and with a Statue of Liberty motif is the hardest to find because Bucherer no longer has a New York City store. The jewelry company has been handing out the Rolex spoons since the 1950s.

Because there are thousands of these silver-plated spoons available, they usually sell for under $15, with the older, rarer examples selling for $25-35.

Sterling silver and silver-plated souvenir spoons have been around since the late 16th century in Europe. The first ones served as religious souvenirs. Made of either silver or gold and often encrusted with jewels, they also served as a form of currency.

The first souvenir spoons in the United States acted as first gifts to babies by their sponsors at christenings. The idea was that a child no sooner learned to feed himself, using his own spoon, than he began to acquire knowledge.

In 1887, as souvenir spoons became the fad in European cities, Daniel Low, of Salem, Mass., made a trip to Europe where he purchased spoons from skilled craftsmen. From these, he conceived the idea of a spoon showing the traditions and legends of Salem. His son, Seth F. Low, designed the first "witch" spoon. Its handle carries the figure of a witch, the word "Salem," and three witch pins similar to those
preserved in the courthouse at Salem.

Low’s witch spoon launched the souvenir spoon craze of the late 19th-century in this country. It was the first to be made in this country from a special die, of a design suggestive of some particular place.

Victorian women loved serving tea and used souvenir spoons whenever they had guests. The spoons also served as conversation pieces with after-dinner coffee and other beverages. They also became badges of travel as Victorians began to travel and attend world expositions.

The Rolex spoons, however, fall into the advertising category. Displaying such a spoon indicates that the owner or someone in the home had purchased a Rolex watch, which for some is a status symbol in itself.