Monday, June 24, 2013

Smokey the Bear is Still Smokin’

QUESTION: As I was cleaning out my attic recently, I came across my old Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit. Do you know if this is collectible today?

ANSWER: Your "Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit," was popular with kids since its introduction in 1957. Today, it’s also a popular collectible. It came complete with a bookmark, letter from Smokey, membership car blotter, four poster stamps and a Junior Forest Ranger Certificate, all profusely illustrated, inside of a beautiful envelope. The Forest Service even included a brass-relief badge from time to time. .

Created by a Madison Avenue advertising campaign in 1944, Smokey the Bear quickly became a beloved national symbol. His plea, "Only you can prevent forest fires," first coined in 1947, is familiar to all.

While Walt Disney’s Bambi had been previously used as a symbol for forest fire prevention, the ad men for the Forest Service decided a bear would be better and gave the job of designing him to illustrator Albert Staehle.

The mid-20th century artist is best remembered for his Saturday Evening Post and American Weekly magazine covers featuring a black and white cocker spaniel. Staehle created the Smokey character with the ranger hat and carrying a water bucket. He did four original posters of Smokey for the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

After Staehle created Smokey the Bear, Rudy Wendelin took on the job his artist. For 30 years, until
his retirement from the Forest Service in 1975. Wendelin endlessly drew Smokey. Later, he even designed the commemorative postage stamp released in 1984 in honor of Smokey’s 40th anniversary.

The cartoon bear was supposedly named after Smokey Joe Martin, New York City's assistant firechief in the 1920's. He began appearing on fire prevention posters and billboards and in countless television public service advertisements pleading with viewers to be fire-safe in the forests.

In 1950, a badly burned cub was rescued in the aftermath of a fire in New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest. He was chosen to be the living symbol of forest fire prevention by the national government. For the next 25 years the bear, now named Smokey after the department's famous cartoon character, was used as a living reminder to Americans of the need to be careful with matches and fire in the forests. In May of 1975 he was retired to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and there he died in November of 1976. His remains were transported back to New Mexico and today, Smokey is buried in his original forest. Another orphan cub was chosen to succeed him.

The Smokey the Bear campaign produced an enormous amount of collectibles. This treasure trove includes everything from stuffed bears and banks to bumper stickers and books of every size and type.

Early recognizing the growing popularity of its fire fighting bear, the United States government trademarked him in 1952. This was done to insure that he would not be used in any way detrimental to his goal. It also brought in royalties, which fluctuated between $40,000 and $200,000 or more each year—money used to supplement the fire prevention budget.

Smokey the Bear can be found in cloth, metal, plastic, and porcelain. Most popular are the stuffed bears. Ideal Toy Company manufactured the first one in 1952. Knickerbocker and Dakin soon followed. Teddy bears of Smokey, wearing jeans and a ranger hat, have been made in all sizes. Some were often talking toys, games, records, and drinking cups and mugs flooded the marketplace in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's.

The first appearance of Smokey the Bear in a comic book came in a 1950 release, entitled Forest Fire, by the American Forestry Association. Rudy Wendelin did the artwork. The Dell Publishing Company produced a series of eight comic books from October 1955 to August 1961. Then came Smokey the Bear in 1962 by K.K. Publications for a 13-year run as part of their "March of Comics" series. And from February 1970 to March 1973, Gold Key issued 13 comic books.

In 1959, the United State Forest Service had Western Printing Company create a comic book, “The True Story of Smokey the Bear,” for use as an educational giveaway to youngsters. It became a popular premium for the next 10 years.

The Forest Service also handed out other premiums since the 1950's that today are quite collectible. These include the Junior Forest Ranger' badges. The agency also gave away pinback buttons with Smokey's face and the slogan, "I'm Helping Smokey Prevent Forest Fires," as well as a free coloring book, "The Blazing Forest," also printed by Western Publishing Company, as part of its "Prevent Forest Fires" campaign.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Romance on the Dining Table

QUESTION: I have some dishes that belonged to my grandmother. I believe they’re over 100 years old. Each has a scene in the center in light blue on a white background. From research I’ve done, I know they’re called Staffordshire, but I still haven’t been able to find much about them. Could you tell me something about them, especially the decorative scenes?

ANSWER: Wedgwood & Co., Unicorn & Pinnox,Works, Staffordshire Potteries, not to be confused with Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, made your dishes. They specialized in making earthenware and stoneware pieces for everyday table use from 1860 to1965. Your particular dishes date somewhere from 1860 to 1890. 

Many people think Staffordshire is a company, but it’s actually a geographical region encompassing 12 shires in England. Many English potters established themselves there because they found the clays  superior to those found elsewhere in England. In fact, potters have been at work there since the days of the Roman occupation.

In the late 18th century there were as many as 80 different manufacturers in the ;Staffordshire district. By 1802, the number had increased to 149. No single company is responsible for manufacturing Staffordshire dishes. Each potter produced his own wares employing a different border from the others.   These border could have medallions, scrolls, lace, shells, flowers, or trees.

Staffordshire potters made their wares from white earthenware pottery found nearby. Workers applied decoration using a method called transfer printing, developed around 1755. They accomplished this inexpensive method by engraving a design onto a copper plate, which they then inked with special ceramic paint and applied to thin paper. Pressing the paper onto the surface left ink behind.

After inking each piece, another worker placed the object into a low-temperature kiln to fix the pattern. The printing could be done either under or over the glaze on a ceramic piece, but since the ink tended to wear off on overprinted pieces, potteries switched to glazing the inked surface after the initial firing.

Scenic views of the Orient and of romantic European destinations with castles and towns became popular. The inspiration for these came from classical literature which was popular at the time. The most valuable plates,. however, are those with American scenes, produced between1800 and 1848. Enterprising English potters arranged with artists traveling in America to sketch the sites for their ware. Leading Staffordshire potters like Adams, Clews, Meigh, Ridgway, Stevens, and Wood, plus those from  hundreds of small companies created American views.

The firms manufacturing these wares included Ridgway, Johnson Brothers, Spode and Wedgwood along with many others. Josiah Wedgwood eventually used the transfer process to decorate his familiar ivory Creamware.

Stamps on the back of each piece often indicated the pattern with or without the maker's trademark. Since several companies employed the same patterns, identifying some pieces can be difficult. At first potters used deep cobalt blue and white designs to simulate wares made in China. These remain sentimental favorites in the United States and England. As technology improved, the shade lightened. By 1850, potteries began using other colors, such as pink, red, black, green, brown and purple.

Most transferware patterns sought by collectors today are two-tone. Blue and white, red and white, and brown and white are the most common combinations. Transferware has become increasingly pricey in the last 10 years, mostly due to articles about using it for decoration to liven up today’s bland home interiors. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Whistle While You Wax

QUESTION: I have quite a few old pieces of furniture, some of which are antiques. I’m never sure what to use to clean and polish them. Can you offer any advice?

ANSWER: You’re not alone. Many people don’t know what type of cleaners and polishers are appropriate for antiques and end up using the wrong thing.

Before you can figure out what type of cleaner and polisher to use on your furniture, you first have to know what sort of finish the maker used on it. The most common finishes found on antique furniture are waxes, oils, shellacs, and varnishes. Not only do these finishes bring out the beauty of the wood's grain and color, but they also protect the wood from moisture and heat changes that can cause shrinking, swelling, crazing, and cracking. Finishes seal the wood pores against dirt and grime, too.

But over the years, wooden furniture dries out and shrinks or expands or warps from too much moisture. Older antiques sat in rooms heated only by a fireplace. If they sat too close to the fire, they dried out—too far away from it, they tended to warp.

In order for a finish to protect the wood, you have to protect the finish. This can be done by cleaning and polishing the finish with either a wax or an oil.

Cleaning furniture is a simple process. Using a solution of Murphy’s Oil Soap or the spray version of it, apply some to a well-wrung-out old washcloth. Rub a small area of the piece at a time and immediately dry it with either paper towels or an old towel. If the piece is particularly grimy, you may have to wash it several times. Be sure not to get the wood too wet and dry each area immediately. After you finish cleaning, let the piece dry thoroughly for 24 hours. For a really bad piece, you can also use one of those green scrubby squares. But don’t rub too hard because you may rub off the finish.

Once your piece is dry, it’s time to apply a new protective coating. The preferred method of protection is a wax since they’re easy to apply and leave a brilliant shine. The best waxes to use are those in paste form. Stay away from Pledge or other so-called spray cleaners and waxes. They apply a film to the surface of furniture which attracts dust like a magnet. Instead, look for products that contain Carnuba wax, a natural substance from a palm tree native to Brazil that’s durable and produces a glossy shine when rubbed vigorously.

Another reliable polish is beeswax, which has been around for many years. A variety of paste and liquid polishes containing beeswax are available.

Minwax Paste Wax, made from petroleum products, is a third alternative. It produces a durable hard shine that lasts up to a year. The more coats you apply, the more waterproof the surface becomes.

Oils such as Tung and linseed have been used for centuries to preserve and polish furniture finishes. They're often mixed with absorption promoters, so they actually sink into the wood pores rather than remaining on top as waxes do. Oils leave a lustrous shine that's softer than a glossy wax shine, and they provide good protection against moisture. However, they do tend to darken the wood slightly over time.

Regardless of which cleaner/polisher you choose—wax, oil, or feeder—always use the same type on a particular piece of furniture. Finish surfaces that are accustomed to one type of cleaner/polisher won't accept another type. For example, an oil applied to a finish that was previously waxed will remain on the wood surface and won't soak in.

How often you need to clean and polish your antiques will depend on a number of variables, such as the type of heating and cooling system in your home, the geographical location, how you use your antiques, and the type of cleaner/polisher you're using.

Generally, you’ll need to apply a paste wax every month or so. To tell if your piece needs another layer of paste wax, buff the old finish with a soft cloth. If this polishing fails to restore shine and smoothness to the finish, it's time for a new coat of wax.

For more specific details on cleaning, check out my previous blog from August 15, 2011.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The First Lawn Chair

QUESTION: We’ve had a Windsor chair in our family as far back as I can remember. I believe it belonged to my great-great grandmother. Today, I use it as a chair at my computer desk. What can you tell me about this chair?

ANSWER: You have a standard bow-back Windsor chair, the kind found in just about every upper class household in Colonial America. While most people consider them delicate antiques, they’re quite sturdy and have many uses.

Today, the ubiquitous white modeled plastic patio chair appears on decks and patios throughout the world. It’s a serviceable chair, easily stacked and stored. But this isn’t the first chair of its kind. In fact, the lowly Windsor chair holds that honor.

One of the most graceful and usable of all traditional chairs, the Windsor is also the most successful piece of furniture in American history. Its origins, however, are English, dating back to the turned and joined stools of 16th-Century England. The name probably derives from Windsor, where a prolific chairmaker  produced and sold the chairs in the 18th Century. He sent them down the Thames River to London where people referred to them as coming "up from Windsor."

Wheelwrights rather than cabinetmakers made Windsor chairs in England. They remained farmhouse or tavern furniture for a long time. But here in America, homeowners embraced the Windsor as a sort of all-around chair. They could be stored in a hallway and brought into any room that needed more seating when guests arrived. They could be easily carried. And they could be brought outdoors to provide seating on the lawn on hot summer days. Even the most prominent members of Colonial communities used them. George Washington seated his guests on the East portico of Mount Vernon in 30 Windsor chairs.

As a piece of furniture, the Windsor holds historical significance. Thomas Jefferson sat in a bow-back. writing-arm Windsor while composing the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in late June of 1776. And when Benjamin Franklin and other members of the Continental Congress voted to secede from the mother country on , July 1, 1776 in Independence Hall, they sat in bow-back Windsors.

There are eight different kinds of American Windsors, including the low-back, or Philadelphia Windsor, named for the city where a craftsman constructed the first Windsor in the colonies, the comb-back, fan-back, bow-back, loop-back, arch-back or New England armchair, rod-back, and arrow-back. Each had its distinct use. Windsor makers socketed all parts together except for the shaped arms of the fan-back, arrow-back, and rod-back chairs. On these, they doweled the inner ends of the arms or screwed them to the back uprights.

Windsor makers preferred pine, whitewood, and basswood for seats, hickory or ash for spindles, maple. yellow birch, or beech for turned legs. stretchers, and supports, and hickory, oak, ash, or beech for hoops. bows, or combs. And because of this, makers gave their Windsors several coats of dark green paint. In the 19th century, small factory workshops produced Windsors of pine and maple. And even to this day, craftsmen still use the same time-tested techniques for constructing reproduction Windsors.

The most common form of Windsor is the bow-back with its elliptical seat and seven tapered spindles that pierce a semi-circular arm rail and bowed top rail.