Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What the Devil is That?

QUESTION: My mother left me her collection of deviled egg plates. While I’ve eaten deviled eggs at parties and picnics, most of time they’re served on a regular dinner plate or in a plastic Tupper Ware-like container. How did these plates originate? And are they still collectible today?

ANSWER: Deviled egg plates are a throwback to the 1940s and 1950s when hostesses entertained in a more formal manner. It was also not long ago when eggs were a desirable food, especially when they were served deviled on ornate plates made especially for that purpose. Happy housewives back then didn’t have a guilt trip about whether her gourmet delights would clog the arteries of her dinner guests.

What the devil are deviled eggs? Various dictionaries and food encyclopedias trace the history of the devil egg to 18th century England. People began using the term “deviled”  to describe kidneys and other meats served hotly spiced. Most sources accepted the comparison to heat and the fires of Hell, resulting in the adjective deviled.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, hostesses served deviled eggs at all sorts of occasions, from finger food at outdoor barbecues and picnics to appetizers at fancy sit-down dinners. Down South, no proper home was without an deviled egg plate. A North Carolina businessman, who grew up in the 1950s, remembers his mother always putting out two platters of deviled eggs when receiving guests. And deviled eggs became a standard dish at church suppers.

Though egg plates came in a wide variety of shapes and designs, all shared a common feature—a series of half-egg shaped depressions in which deviled eggs could be nested. But despite a centuries-old history of the deviled egg, most museums don’t have any pre-19th century egg plates in their collections. The decorative egg plate seems to have peaked in the 1950s and 1960s.

Deviled eggs reached new heights with proliferation of cocktail parties from the 1940s to 1960s producing an explosion of decorative egg plates during that period. The 1970s, however, marked the end of egg plate’s hey day. 

One of the most popular motifs for egg plates were hens, roosters and chicks. There were trays decorated with hens, shaped like hens or with figural hens, salt and pepper shakers. Small oval plates with matching hen shakers can easily be found in the ochre and avocado colors of the 1970s. Manufacturers also produced plates of other designs with matching salt and pepper shakers. A plate with deviled egg depressions plus two small, flat rimmed depressions is likely one that’s missing its shaker mates.

Multipurpose plates often have space for dips, relishes or other finger food in addition to the deviled eggs. Creative hostesses often place a salad, salad dressing, or relishes in the center of these plates, decorated with a hand-painted hen and rooster decorated egg plate.

Collectors often follow a decorating theme, gathering only those plates embellished with hens or flowers or plates with matching` shakers, etc. Others are more eclectic, preferring highly decorative or unusually shaped egg plates. Flowers, such as roses and violets, matching the china patterns and tastes of the times were quite popular, as were those with fruit or vegetable themes to correspond with kitchen and dining decor. The most commonly found glass egg plates are the ones of blue and green Carnival glass, made by the Indiana Glass Company.

People often confuse egg plates with oyster plates. Deviled egg plates have perfectly oval depressions with smooth edges while oyster plates have jagged edges and slightly kidney shaped depressions. The majority of egg plates are made of heavier china or stoneware, while oyster plates are more commonly found in fine porcelain and majolica. Generally, oyster plates are older, frequently dating from the mid- to late 19th century.

Prices for egg plates vary widely. Fine china and elegant glass egg plates seem to command the highest prices, the market apparently being driven more by the porcelain or glass pattern collectors than egg plate devotees. Many egg plates can be found for under $30, but values for ornate examples or those made by elegant glass or well-known pottery manufacturers can be much higher.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A One-Armed Chair

QUESTION: We bought an old farmhouse three years ago and this chair has been in our barn. What can you tell me about it?

ANSWER: What you have is a one-arm ladies chair made in the Eastlake style from 1870-1885. And, yes, it was part of a parlor set, which usually included a love seat, a two-armed gentleman's chair, and a one-armed ladies' chair. Furniture manufacturers made these chairs with one arm and low to the ground because the ladies of the time wore dresses with lots of fabric in their skirts, covering over one or more petticoats. Eastlake suggested that chairs be made low to the floor so that ladies could remove their shoes without having to bend over in an un-lady-like manner. The new middle class housewives loved it.

The Eastlake style grew out of the beginning of the Aesthetic Movement which later evolved into the Arts and Crafts Movement. Charles Lock Eastlake, himself, wasn't a furniture maker but wrote a book, Hints on Household Taste, published in England in 1868 and the United States in 1872, which called for the manufacture of simple sturdy furniture and gave suggestions on how to decorate a home in a simple, refined manner. He was a noted, trend-setting British architect, author, and lecturer, and by the time his book hit booksellers in America, it was an instant hit with middle-class housewives who wanted to keep up with the trends in home decoration.

Although Eastlake furniture is technically considered Victorian, it breaks away from the excessive high relief carving, classical elements, and numerous curves of other styles produced during this time. Eastlake’s reformed style offered the first glimpses of modernism and was on exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

In contrast with other Victorian styles of furniture produced in America featuring classical motifs, Eastlake furniture was more geometric and incorporates softer curves. Though some pieces may have incorporated Renaissance Revival and medieval influences, they don’t overwhelm the pices.

A number of manufacturers made this furniture and most didn’t mark their pieces. Using oak, cherry, rosewood, and walnut, they often emphasized wood grains. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell what type of wood manufacturers used because of the dark varnishes they used to coat the surface.

In contrast to Arts and Crafts furniture, Eastlake pieces weren’t completely lacking in ornamentation and decorative elements. But the ornamental carving on these pieces was lightly incised rather than deeply carved. Generally, new Eastlake furniture came in a broad range of quality and price levels.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Bedroom Necessity

QUESTION: I found and fell in love with and bought this nightstand from a thrift store for $60.00. What can you tell me about it?

ANSWER: What you have is a nightstand which probably dates to the 1930s or 1940s. Nightstands are a new type of furniture. Back when people used didn’t have indoor toilets, they sometimes kept a porcelain potty in a cabinet in the lower part of a similar piece of furniture. This came to be known in America as a commode. It allowed a person who had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to use it in the privacy of their bedroom and not have to go out to the outhouse. When indoor plumbing became more common, furniture manufacturers kept the piece of furniture but replaced the cabinet in the lower portion with drawers.

But to fully understand how the nightstand evolved, we have to go back to the Middle Ages. During that time, people used a simple setup consisting of a tripod stand or stool that could hold a washbasin. They would have placed a chamber pot either under the tripod stand or inside the stool for easy access.

By the 18th century, the washstand, also called a basin stand or washhand stand, had become more a necessity in the bedroom, not just for washing up, but for storage of a chamber pot to be used in the middle of the night when necessity called.

Cabinetmakers made some to fit in a corner, with a bowed door in front and flaps extending upwards from the sides to protect the wall from water splashes. These were simple pieces. By the 19th century, they had increased in size, becoming heavier and more substantial that often came with a marble top and drawers in front and a cupboard below in which to store a chamber pot.

More high quality washstands appeared in the second half of the 19th century. These were usually a part of a bedchamber suite, consisting of a bedstead, dresser, wardrobe of some sort, and bedside commode.

Wealthier people with servants could also use their bedroom for bathing. First, there was the convenience of a commode near the bed, a washstand with warm water supplied by the maid or even a nice hip bath set near to all the bedroom furniture and accessories that a person would have used for grooming and dressing. By heating the bedroom and perhaps an adjoining dressing room, a person could take care of all of his or her bathing needs at once in one warm area. This was especially true in big houses in cold weather.

The washstand, itself, became an essential piece of bedroom furniture. It came in varying designs which could easily accommodate a large basin, a pitcher, a toothbrush jar, and various other toilet accessories, frequently including a chamber pots housed in a cupboard at its base. Furniture makers usually used white marble for the top and the “splash back” set into a wooden frame. Sometimes, they cut a hole in the top so a basin could be suspended in it. They often used a special type of French marble known as “St. Anne’s,” as it resisted the action of the alkali in soap.

Basic washstand accessories included a seven-piece washstand set, consisting of a ceramic bowl and pitcher, chamber pot, toothbrush holder, shaving mug, soap dish, and comb and brush tray. People would often hang a mirror on the wall behind the washstand. Another common accessory was a wooden towel rail known as a “towel horse.”

Commode washstands served the same purpose as a simpler table washstand, made like a chest with a bottom cupboard to hold the chamber pot and a jar for dirty wash water.  Furniture makers added drawers in some models to store a razor, soap dish and towels. The top of some washstands could be lifted to reveal a well in which the wash basin and pitcher could be stored when not in use.

So how did washstand evolve into the nightstand? These convenient pieces of furniture are part of every modern bedroom set. Before indoor flushing toilets became commonplace, the main function of a nightstand was to store a chamber pot. As a result, early nightstands often had small cabinets below with a drawer above them. The enclosed storage space below may also have been covered by one or more doors. Americans eventually started called this bedside cabinet a commode, which after the installation of indoor bathrooms, they also called them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What a Sweet Idea

QUESTION: My mother collected honey pots almost all of her adult life. When she died, she had over 200 of them. Now I have her collection. And while many of them are fun to look at, I know very little about them. What can you tell me about my honey pots? How did they get started and what can I do to maintain and continue my mother’s collection.

ANSWER: First, it’s great to hear that you want to continue collecting honey pots. Too many people inherit collections from their parents, only to sell them off or leave them to collect dust in their attic. Continuing a collection is a great idea, but you need to know something about the items you’re collecting.

People use honey pots to hold the sweet viscid material produced from the nectar of flowers in the honey sac of bees. Bees, beekeepers and honey have been documented since ancient times. One of the more interesting discoveries made by archeologists in the tombs of Egyptian kings was containers of honey. Considered the golden liquor of the ancient gods, two honey pots pulled from New Kingdom tombs, dating from 1400 BC, still had their contents intact. And the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III made sure he was in good with the Nile gods by offering them 15 tons of honey.

Honey is one of nature's great miracles. In fact, honey discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs is still edible today. Since bees depend on honey for substance during the winter, they need to create something that will last a long time.

While the most popular form of honey pot is the skep-shaped pottery, honey pots can be found in numerous shapes and sizes. The pots can be found in rectangular, round and box shape. Most collections include a myriad of designs, colors and patterns from many different countries. The United States, France, Germany, England, The Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, Norway, Japan and Ireland are some of the countries represented in many collections.

Although rare pots sell for as high as $1,000, many vintage ones can be found at flea markets or antique malls. The most expensive pots have back stamps by potteries such as Irish Belleek, Limoges, English Moorcroft, Spode, Wegdwood, Royal Winton, and Noritake. Several leading companies represent the United States, including Lenox, Cambridge, Fostoria, Westmoreland, and Imperial Glass. The Indiana Glass Worlds produced a red honey dish in the late 19th century designed to hold one piece of honeycomb. The dish design contains four beehives and 40 bees. The Indiana Glass Works later produced a replica of the same piece.

In countries around the Mediterranean, potterers inscribed the word “Miel” or “Mel” or “Miele” on their pots. England and Germany have a rich tradition of beautifully decorated honey pots. However, in Holland, people didn’t make very much of setting an elaborate table with a separate piece of matching china for each category of food. So, honey was kept in very simple pots covered with cork or parchment paper. In the 1950's the Dutch honey firm Mellon a issued some very nice white pots with a brown lid, a honey pot made of glass and a honey pot in the shape of a bee.

Pots can also tell a lot about other cultures. Scandinavian pots are very modem, English pots are richly decorated, American ones have bears on them, as do Russian pots. Southern European honey pots are mostly made in the form of a Grecian amphora.

The stinger in collecting honey pots is trying to find all the pieces intact—the pot, lid, spoon, and under plate. The weakest part of any honey pot is the bee’s wings. Before you buy a honey pot for your collection, be sure to check for chips, restorations, an in particular, re-glued wings. Only be tempted to buy such pots if they’re inexpensive or exceptional.

Ping the base of a pot with your fingers. You should hear a ringing sound. A thud, or muffled sound should immediately arouse suspicion, as there may well be invisible cracks.

Check that the pot has the correct lid. Flea market dealers, in particular, often match lids with the wrong base, whether on purpose or not. Slight variations in glaze color between the lid and the base can be normal.

If any of the pots you purchase contain honey, empty them as soon as possible. Honey can sometimes stain them or leak from under the lid.