Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Under the Coverlets



QUESTION: I’ve long admired the colorful coverlets that are often on display in museum gift shops. Recently, I saw an exhibit of them at a museum in Indiana. The variety was astonishing. I know they were done on a special kind of loom, but I forget what it was called. Can you tell me more about how these coverlets were made and a bit about their history?

ANSWER: Coverlets originated in Europe. Early ones, woven on a four-harness type loom, didn’t have complex patterns like those made in the mid 19th century in the United States. Their unique designs were made possible by the invention of the “Jacquard” loom.

Household weavers usually women, produced these decorative and warm bed covers. They created simple but visually exciting geometric overshot coverlets. Complex, figural designs were more difficult to produce alone on the same loom. That changed in 1806 when Joseph Marie Jacquard of France invented a mechanical attachment that could be attached to most looms by professional male weavers. A series of punched cards  guided the raising and lowering of the warp threads to form complex designs. Repeated motifs could be endlessly varied and re-combined. Floral designs, birds, simple buildings and stars were common, with a central section usually framed by a border along the top, sides, and bottom. Many Jacquard coverlet weavers "signed" and dated their textiles on the decorative corner blocks at the bottom corners.

The Jacquard attachment first appeared in America in the early 1820s, probably by one of the many German, English and French hand weavers who had immigrated from their native countries in Europe. These immigrant weavers tended to settle in areas with populations of their own ethnic group and near sources of good quality wool. Many brought some type of Jacquard attachment or at least the experience to use one. Some even developed their own devices based on Jacquard's idea and patented them in the U.S.

The earliest American Jacquard coverlets appeared in New York and Pennsylvania in the late 1820s. As weavers saturated the market in the Eastern states, and weaving became more mechanized and moved into a factory setting, many weavers moved westward into Ohio and Indiana, and eventually to Illinois, looking for new markets as well as farmland. Raw wool and commercially spun yarns as well as natural and synthetic dyestuffs needed for weaving could easily be obtained throughout the state. The weavers settled in or near agrarian communities among people of shared backgrounds and familiar with folk motifs and designs used in coverlets, primarily those from Germany, France and England. The weavers made lasting contributions to the communities in which they settled, opening businesses and promoting weaving; perhaps most importantly, they brought a touch of color and technical design to an expanding 19th-century population on the western frontier.

Jacquard weavers derived the patterns and motifs they used from well-known folk traditions of Western Europe. The designs of most Illinois coverlets can be traced back to Ohio and Pennsylvania coverlets. The center field patterns were either a large, repeated symmetrical motif on two-piece ones or a centered medallion on single-width coverlets. Floral motifs appeared most frequently, in the Four Lilies and Sun-burst, Four Roses, Octagonal Four Roses, Four Leaves and Four Acorns, and Four Bellflowers patterns. Star and Sunburst designs were also common.

Illinois Jacquard coverlets, like their Pennsylvania counterparts, had borders along each side and the bottom. Popular traditional Germanic motifs include the distelfink, or thistle finch, and Grapevine. A corner block or name line identifies the weaver, his location, and usually the year of production.

Typically, weavers produced cotton coverlets for weddings and births. Wedding or bride coverlets or blankets were required items in a young woman’s hope chest. Starting around 1825, major towns had a resident weaver whose job it was to make blankets and accept work on commission. The weaver may have had an apprentice and the weaver’s loom was the site of his/her business dealings. Coverlets were double woven and produced with wool and imported indigo blue and madder red or brown dyes. A traditional early 19th-century woven coverlet would cost the buyer between $5 and $15. Coverlets were much more commonplace than quilts from about 1823 to the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Learn more about Jacquard coverlet and rug weaving by reading "Weaving their Way Into History" in The Antiques Almanac. This is the story of a family who has kept Jacquard coverlet weaving alive in Pennsylvania.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the early 20th century in the Fall 2018 Edition, "20th Century Ltd.," online now.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Jewelry for the Dinner Table



QUESTION: I’ve been collecting napkin rings for quite a while. To date, I have about 50 or 60. I’ve always been intrigued by the multitude of designs and materials from which they’re made. Recently, I was thinking that I don’t really know how they got started. Can you tell me the origin of napkin rings? To they go back a long time or are they a relatively recent invention?



ANSWER: While most people today use napkin rings for special holiday dinners or special dinner parties, in fact, they had a totally different use when they first appeared.

People use napkin rings, sometimes called christening bangles, to hold table napkins neatly on a dining table. Historians believe they were originally handmade from strips of fabric and used to identify the napkin of each user between weekly wash days so each person could continue using the exact same one as a way of keeping illnesses at bay.

The Chinese invented paper in the 2nd century BCE and soon after created paper napkins. People used paper folded in squares, known as chih pha, when serving tea.

Around 1800, members of the French bourgeoisie originally gave single silver napkin rings engraved with the name of the owner as christening gifts and pairs of them as wedding gifts. Soon, they became available in numbered sets of 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12 in all countries of the western world. Most 19th century napkin ring makers made them of silver or silver plate, as well as bone, wood, pearl embroidery, porcelain, glass, and other materials. In the 20th century, bakelite and other new materials were used.

Napkin rings appear as single items with the name or initials of the owner, notably given as christening presents, or pairs often given as gifts at weddings and silver weddings. In the English speaking countries, numbered sets of 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 napkin rings are found. Napkin rings are an invention of the European bourgeoisie, first appearing in France about 1800 and soon spreading to all countries in the western world. Most 19th century napkin rings were made of silver or silver plate, but others were made in bone, wood, pearl embroidery, porcelain, glass, and other materials. In the 20th century, they used Bakelite and other plastics.

Almost every silversmith in Europe and in the United States made sterling silver and plated napkin rings. Even the basic rings sometimes had fluted borders, scrolled patterns, and sections of satin finish.

Americans loved figural napkin rings—a simple napkin ring part of which was a small figure or sculpture that could take any shape and show any motif. Special rings made for children with little chicks, dogs, and cats were a favorite gift for christenings and Christmas. But beautifully designed rings with floral motifs, monograms and other design elements were just as popular.

Upper middle and upper class Victorian families used napkin rings for fashionable and refined dining from shortly after the Civil War to shortly before World War I. During this time, napkin rings were especially elaborate and artistic. Many makers created napkin rings set on a platform base along with an ornate figure of a bird, flower, or cherub.

People considered napkin rings personal items, so they had them engraved with an individual's name, initials, or family designation such as Mother and Father.

Sculptured fruit such as cherries and gooseberries, flowers including lilies and roses, a snail and shell, a frog and lily pad, a dog house with a dog at the door, butterflies and fans, are only a few of the Victorian fancies now available to the collector as a result of the variety which were manufactured.

The Meriden Britannia Company Probably was the largest and most prolific of the silver plated napkin ring manufacturers. Their catalogs sometimes included a half dozen pages of just rings.

Other sterling silver napkin rings came from Reed and Barton, William Rogers, Gorham, Tufts, Unger Brothers, Wilcox and even the legendary Tiffany. By 1893 Marshal Field Company of Chicago was proudly offering napkin rings of "engraved satin” or of 'bright silver and gold lined."

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the early 20th century in the Fall 2018 Edition, "20th Century Ltd.," online now.



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Airline Collectibles Take Off



Question: I’ve traveled a lot for business in my career. Most of the time I’ve flown Business Class, but occasionally I got upgraded to First Class. Over the years, I’ve amassed a bunch of items from my many flights—baggage tags, menus, odd pieces of flatware, napkins, toiletry kits, and even little gifts from some overseas flights.  Are these things collectible? Are they worth anything?

Answer: Airline collectibles are hot. Although airline memorabilia collecting has been around for many years, many people don't realize just how long such items have been collected. Even the smallest of items can make for an interesting collection.

Collecting commercial airline items is still a new area, and, depending a what a collector chooses to collect, can still be quite affordable. The fact that many long-established airlines that were once household names have stopped flying adds to the lure of collecting airline memorabilia.

There are almost as many ways to collect airline items as there are airlines and airplanes. In fact, many people collect them by airline, a distinct collecting category. Some people have a love or hate relationship with a specific airline. It may be with the airline on which they flew first, or one they or a family member worked for. Some collectors build their collections around a specific aircraft or focus on a specific type of item such as airline china or insignias. There’s also a distinction between "vintage" airline items and newer ones, such as photographs or new models that can be found at shows. Beginning collectors should be aware that in addition to vintage postcards, newer ones have been produced in recent years and may be found at shows. Often these newer cards, which may look similar to vintage ones, are priced like them.

Some collectors choose to collect airline insignia or service pins by airline or crew position. Service pins feature small insignia, or items bearing the corporate insignia, awarded to crew members for a certain number of years in service. Collectors have found several different styles of insignia for an individual airline. Some companies used cloth hat badges before turning to metal hat insignia. Wings may be all metal or made with ceramic insets containing the corporate logo. The price for insignia varies depending on age, condition, style, crew position and airline. Depending on the piece, prices for more common insignia can be less than $50. Collectors can expect to pay up to several hundred dollars for older or rare pieces.

Today, many airlines have eliminated in-flight meals. Passengers are lucky to get a tiny bag of peanuts or pretzels. In the early days of air travel, passengers ate from fine china with metal flatware. Not only does the china reflect the elegance of an earlier time, but it’s a popular aviation collectible. Prices vary based on airline, age, piece and condition. When buying airline china, collectors use the same criteria as when purchasing other vintage china or ceramics, such as chips, cracks, and scratches.



Depending on where they’re purchased, prices for glasses can range from $5 to $25 as compared to cups and saucer sets that have a higher value of between $30 to $50. Plates can range from $50 to $250 depending on the age, decoration, condition and airline. Collectors expect to pay more for pieces from early airlines or ones that catered to "first-class service."

Airplanes themselves also attract collector interest. Some antique aircraft can be seen in museums. Others have been lovingly restored by collectors or consortiums and can be found tucked away in small local airports or seen flying high at air shows. For those who can't afford an entire plane, collectors can still land a variety of items related to their favorite aircraft such as instrument panel posters used for crew training or flight manuals.

Aircraft used by commercial airlines from around the world have been captured in photographs and prints, as well as on postcards and in paintings. Those who love the form and graceful lines of an aircraft aren’t restricted to pictures. Models, whether put together by future pilots or professionally made for a travel agent's desk, are collectible. A metal travel agents' model can cost upward of $2,000, even more if it’s of a popular airline or airplane.

Much of the paper ephemera directly associated with planes can be relatively inexpensive. Most safety cards are valued between $1 and $3. Safety cards are plastic laminated cards or folders that give information to passengers on the locations of emergency exits. Other types of paper collectibles are postcards and playing card decks. Postcards can be picked up for a dollar or two, and many playing card decks for between $5 and $10. For those who collect manuals, user's manuals and flight logs from the 1950s and older are preferred, although that may change as newer planes are removed from service. An added value to a manual is that many of them contain sketches and photographs, as well as the technical specifications, and were put in binders bearing the company logo.



Before the days of computers and the Internet, printed flight schedules were the travelers'—sometimes the flight crews'—travel guide. Prices vary for flight schedules depending on age, condition, airport and airline. For instance, those from the 1990s sell for $1-2, those from the1980s for $2-4, those from the 1970s for $4-6, and those from the 1940s and 1950s for $20-30. Schedules from the 1930s can cost between $60 and $100.

Almost anything with a corporate logo can be found in an airline collection including corporate literature, annual reports and magazine advertisements. There can also be crossover collecting where the advertisement showcases the aircraft. Illustrating the graciousness of airlines of the past are complimentary toiletry kits. Given to the traveler who forgot his toothbrush, kits can also contain razors, toothpaste and shampoo. Perhaps the most unusual airline collectible are air-sickness bags. Yes, there are collectors who desire them—preferably unused.

After eating Yankee pot roast and glazed carrots with sourdough rolls, passengers on a Pan Am flight could enjoy cherry pie and saltwater taffy. Beer was 50 cents and a split of champagne cost $1. And it didn’t cost a dime for you to be free of your luggage. Those were the days.

To learn more about collecting airline memorabilia, read "Up, Up and Away With Airline Collectibles" in my antiques ezine, The Antiques Almanac.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the early 20th century in the Fall 2018 Edition, "20th Century Ltd.," online now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Beauty of Doulton Burslem Ware



QUESTION: I recently came across several pieces of what a dealer called Doulton Burslem Ware at an antique show. I have never heard of this type of pottery, even though I have several pieces made by Royal Doulton in my collection. Were these pieces specially made? Did Doulton make them in a separate factory. Where did the name Burslem come from?

ANSWER: Over its history, Royal Doulton made a variety of types of ceramics, including pottery and porcelain. Its Burslem line featured its finest porcelains.

John Doulton began his working life as a potter’s apprentice at Dwight’s Pottery in Fulham, England. In 1815, he went into business for himself in Lambeth, partnering with a journeyman names John Watts and a widow named Martha Jones. After Martha Jones left the partnership in 1820, John Doulton changed the company’s  name to Doulton & Watts. The business specialized in making stoneware articles, including decorative bottles and salt glaze sewer pipes. The firm took the name Doulton & Company in 1853 after the retirement of John Watts.

His son, Henry, joined his father in 1835 at age 15. He quickly mastered the technique of throwing large vessels. Legend has it that he once made 15 3-gallon filter cases before breakfast. To celebrate his coming of age in 1841, Henry made and fired a 300-gallon chemical jar. His father was so proud of him he displayed it with a sign reading, "The largest stoneware vessel in the world."

Not only did Henry have skill in making pottery, but he was a big thinker and attuned to the artistic tastes of the public. By 1871, Henry Doulton launched a studio at the Lambeth pottery, offering work to designers and artists from the nearby Lambeth School of Art.  In 1877 Henry bought out Pinder, Bourne and Company, a pottery located in Burslem, Staffordshire, England. This placed him in the region known as The Potteries. Five years later he changed the name to Doulton and Company.

Henry fostered an artistic environment that encouraged individual expression, and  soon his workers made some of the most beautiful porcelains of the time. Not only did he hire women, but handicapped artists as well.

Henry was given the Albert Medal by the Royal Society of Arts in 1885 and was knighted in 1887 because of his contributions to the artistic life of England. In the late 1800s anyone who wanted to be in style owned Doulton items.

Sir Henry held off displaying the new Burslem porcelains at exhibitions until he was confident that he could show his competitors the best of his artists were cap-able of producing. At the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 he felt the public was ready for the new range. Large vases, including one which was 6 feet high, were modeled by Charles Noke' and painted by Charles Labarre, who had come to Doulton's from Sevres in France. Other items exhibited were floral painted dessert services and fish and game sets. The Doulton Works took seven of the highest awards, the most given to any ceramic firm.

Doulton's factory at Burslem produced a tremendous amount of tableware and beautifully decorated items, such as vases, ewers and plaques, all of high quality porcelain. It took the work of many skilled craftsman and women to accomplish this.

Notable artists such as Percy Curock, Daniel Dewsbury, Edward Raby, George White and, of course, Charles Noke experimented with glazes, including Changware, Chinese Jade, Sung, and Flambe'.

The Art Nouveau movement influenced many of Doulton’s artists in the late 19th century. In 1889, when Doulton recruited Charles Noke' from the Worcester factory as its chief modeler, many of his earliest pieces featured Oriental-style dragons in high relief. Vases and ewers had gilded dragon handles or molded dragons crawling up the sides. Dragons became an important part of Noke's work, especially when he began experimenting with the Chinese rouge flambe glazes in the early 1900s.

By this time Doulton had become known for its stoneware and ceramics, under the artistic direction of John Slater, who worked with figurines, vases, character jugs, and decorative pieces designed by the prolific Leslie Harradine. Doulton products came to the attention of the Royal family. In 1901 King Edward VII sold the Burslem factory the Royal Warrant, allowing the business to adopt new markings and a new name, Royal Doulton. The company added products during the first half of the 20th century while manufacturing fashionable and high-quality bone china.

Early Doulton artists frequently used nature as their theme, befitting the Art Nouveau style. Flowers were a very popular subject, usually done in muted colors outlined in gold. They also used animals, especially farm animals such as cows and goats, to decorate vases and other items, many with hand-painted landscapes.

In the first few years of the Burslem factory, some unique, very fragile pieces were made with colorful applied seashells or flowers, vines and leaves in an effort to duplicate some of the Amphora pieces made in Austria during that time. Some of these pieces are still in existence today and are eagerly sought by collectors.



During the late 19th century, when the Burslem craftsmen were producing their wares, many competing potters from the Worcester, Royal Bonn and Rudolstadt factories were also producing similar pieces. All of them employed the Spanish Ware technique—the  painting of very fine raised 22-karat gold outline traceries of flowers and leaves, combined with on-glaze enamel painting, often on an ivory or vellum ground. Many pieces had elaborate gilded scroll handles and three or four feet. Some rare pieces even had sections of reticulation.

Many of the cups and saucers from tea, coffee and chocolate services were very delicate in nature and also painted in muted colors using flowers as a theme. Much use of gold was used to decorate the cups and saucers, not only to outline the flowers, but the handle and trim were almost always done in gold. Doulton did a series called Blue Iris. The majority of the pieces in this line used blue flowers on a cream background, embellished by much gold tracery.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Through the Glass Brightly



QUESTION: My grandmother had the most amazing collection of Heisey glassware. Though she didn’t know much about it, she loved the way it sparkled. Gran has passed on and now I have her collection. I, too, know very little about Heisey glass. What can you tell me about it? And how would I go about continuing to collect it?

ANSWER: It’s always nice to inherit someone’s collection. But the act of collecting is what brings joy to that person. That same joy is missing when someone hands you their collection. Should you curate it and improve the collection or just warehouse it. If you choose the former, you’ll need to educate yourself about Heisey glass in all its forms. If you choose the latter, you might as well sell it. Holding on to it won’t necessarily do you any good if you don’t know its true value.

A.H. Heisey formed the A.H. Heisey Company in Newark, Ohio, in 1895. The factory provided fine quality glass tableware and decorative glass figurines. It produced both pressed and blown glassware in a wide variety of patterns and colors. The company also made glass automobile headlights and Holophane Glassware lighting fixtures. After Heisey died, his sons ran the company until 1957, when the factory closed.

Augustus Heisey was born in 1842 in Hanover, Germany. In 1843, his father took the family to the United States, settling in Merrittown, Pa. After someone murdered his father, his mother returned to Germany. Augustus spent the rest of his childhood with his sister in Brownsville.Pennsylvania. He worked first in a printing business but soon began working as a clerk with either for the King Glass Company or Cascade Glass Works. By 1861. Augustus H. Heisey was in the glass business.

Heisey fought in the Civil War and returned to the glass business soon afterwards. By 1870 he was a highly regarded salesman for, and son-in-law of George Duncan, who owned the George Duncan Glass Company. By 1895, he was looking at a site in Newark, Ohio, with hopes of founding his own company. The high quality limestone deposits and abundant natural gas, water, oil and coal nearby made Newark an excellent choice.

Heisey understood the importance of marketing. His breakthrough technique for combining blown vessels with fancy pressed stems put his product in the country's dining rooms, but his marketing innovations kept them there. He was one of the first manufacturers to market directly to the end user through advertisements in popular magazines for women. Heisey also understood niche marketing, producing specific products to appeal to various regions.

In the years before World War I, the company prospered, adding lines and colors and developing a reputation for a quality product at an affordable price. The war brought with it problems due to government controls of production and lack of manpower, but Heisey had developed a new etching technique that was more economical and required less skill to execute. The company remained strong until the passage of the Prohibition Amendment which severely curtailed the market for glass items intended for alcoholic use.

Augustus Heisey died suddenly in February 1922, and his son, E. Wilson Heisey, assumed the presidency. E. Wilson's passion was color, and during his time with the company, he worked closely with company chemist Emmett Olsson to produce a variety of hues.

The company went to great lengths to produce distinct colors, and Heisey glass may often be identified from the specific colors alone. In 1925, the company introduced Flamingo, a pastel rose-pink, and Moongleam, a vivid green. Marigold was a brassy gold-yellow color. Sahara, which replaced Marigold, was a satisfying soft lemony yellow and Hawthorne a lavender. Tangerine, a bright orange-red produced from about 1933, was part of a trend to darker, more vivid colors. During this time, the company introduced a Cobalt color called Stiegel Blue. Alexandrite, the rarest of Heisey colors, can be a pale blue-green under normal light, but in sunlight or ultraviolet light, it glows with a pink-lavender hue. Zircon is a very modern grey-blue and was the last new color introduced.



High clarity and brilliance, due to the process of fire polishing, were a hallmark of Heisey glass. Many of the pressed pieces look like cut crystal because of the high quality of the glass and the crispness of the molding. The majority of the pieces are impressed with the company logo, a raised capital letter "H" inscribed in a diamond. Popular pattern names include Crystolite, Greek Key, Empress, Plantation, Ridgeleigh, Stanhope, Old Sandwich, and Yeoman, amongst dozens of others.

In 1942, E. Wilson Heisey died suddenly and his brother, T. Clarence Heisey, took over. Shortages from World War II drastically curtailed production. And after it, labor unrest led to strikes over wages. By the 1950s, overseas manufacturers began producing handmade glass for less, and cheaper machine-made glass for everyday use became widely available.

At the time the factory closed in 1957, the Imperial Glass Company bought the molds for the Heisey glass production and continued producing some pieces mostly with the Imperial Glass mark until they went out of business in 1984. Many of these pieces were animal figurines, mostly in new or original colors using the old molds.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.

NOTE: Sorry for the interruption in my blog posts, but I suffered a prolonged Internet outage as a result of a severe storm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Roll the Dice and Move Forward



QUESTION: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved playing board games. The neighbor kids and I would sit for hours on one of our porches playing one game or another during the summer. In the winter, we did it less often but games kept us occupied on weekends. I have several games from when I was younger, but I’d really like to seriously begin collecting them. What can you tell me about the history of board games and how I might go about starting a collection.

ANSWER: Lots of people love to play board games. In fact, they were the primary source of entertainment from the 1880s to the 1920s. Some families still have a “family game night” where the entire family plays board games instead of watching T.V. or talking or texting on their cell phones. Collecting them is easy. When you have three or more games, you essentially have the beginnings of a collection. However, to truly be a games collector, you’ll have to know more about their history so that you can be on the lookout for some unusual ones.

The oldest board game known to man is a game called “Senet.” Ancient Egyptians in played it during the  Predynastic Period, dating it to around 3100 BCE. The Romans played Ludus Latrunculorum, a two-player strategy board game in which they called the board the “city” and the playing pieces “dogs.” The pieces, each of one of two colors, enabled players to take a piece belonging to their opponent by enclosing it with two of their own. Sounds a bit like chess?

Essentially, a board game is one played on a tabletop that involves counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or "board", according to a set of rules. While some games are based on pure strategy, many contain an element of chance. And some are purely chance, requiring no skill.

Games usually have a goal that a player aims to achieve. Early board games represented a battle between two armies, and most modern board games are still based on defeating opponents in terms of counters, winning position, or accrual of points.

There are many varieties of board games. Their representation of real-life situations can range from having no inherent theme, like checkers, to having a specific theme and narrative, like Clue. Rules can range from the very simple, like Tic-tac-toe, to those describing a game universe in great detail, like Dungeons & Dragons – although most of the latter are role-playing games where the board, which serves to help visualize the game scenario, is secondary to the game

In 17th and 18th century colonial America, the agrarian life of the country left little time for game playing  The Pilgrims and Puritans didn’t help matters with their negative views of game playing. They preached that dice were the instruments of the Devil.

Traveler's Tour Through the United States, published by New York City bookseller F. & R. Lockwood in 1822, was the first board game published in the United States.

As the U.S. shifted from agrarian to urban living in the 19th century, the middle class had more income and more leisure time. The American home became a place of entertainment, enlightenment, and education. Mothers encouraged their children to play board games that developed literacy skills and provided moral instruction.

Commercially produced board games in the mid-19th century featured monochrome prints hand-colored by teams of low-paid young factory women. The development of chromolithography, a technological achievement that made bold, richly colored images available at affordable prices, enabled commercial production of inexpensive board games. Games cost as little as US$.25 for a small boxed card game to $3.00 for more elaborate games.

In 1860, The Checkered Game of Life rewarded players for mundane activities such as attending college, marrying, and getting rich. Daily life rather than eternal life became the focus of board games. The game was the first to focus on secular virtues rather than religious ones and sold 40,000 copies its first year.

The rags-to-riches game of the District Messenger Boy, published in 1886 by the New York City firm of McLoughlin Brothers, was one of the first board games based on materialism and capitalism. The game is a typical roll-and-move track board game that encouraged the idea that the lowliest messenger boy could ascend the corporate ladder to its topmost rung. Such games insinuated that the accumulation of wealth brought increased social status. Players move their tokens along the track at the spin of the arrow toward the goal at the track's end. Some spaces on the track advanced the player while others sent him or her back. Competitive capitalistic games culminated in 1935 with Monopoly, the most commercially successful board game in U.S. history.

Many board games require some level of skill and luck. Game makers introduced luck into their games using a variety of methods. The most common is the use of dice, which dates back to ancient Rome.  A roll of the dice can decide everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, to how their forces fare in battle, as in Risk, or which resources a player gains as in The Settlers of Catan. Other games employ spinning an arrow or hooking a game piece, as in chess, as a way of introducing luck into the game.

Randomness is also an element that promotes luck in many board games. The game of Sorry! Uses a deck of special cards that, when shuffled, create randomness.  Scrabble does something similar with randomly picked letters. Other games use spinners, timers of random length, or other sources of randomness.

But there’s also a cultural element to board games. The game of Monopoly wasn’t the first to have a “greed is good” theme. In 1883, Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall St. The The game promised it would make players feel like "speculators, bankers and brokers" and featured cartoons of railroad barons Jay Gould and William Henry Vanderbilt.




Many of the games are also beautiful works of art, with bold designs and bright colors, featuring fanciful characters or outrageous cartoons, often based on nursery rhymes, fairy tales or stories plucked from the headlines.

Old and vintage board games are probably one of the most common items found at garage and yard sales, church sales, and flea markets. As kids grow up and leave the nest, parents either sell their games or give them away.

Collectors often focus on the history of one game, such as Monopoly. There have been so many versions of it produced over the years, that a person could collect only that game and no other. Of course, collectors also focus on role-playing games, buying and selling games, economic stimulation games, educational games, and many other categories.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.


Friday, October 5, 2018

The Ancient Game of the Mandarins




QUESTION: My grandmother looked forward to getting together with her lady friends at the Jewish Community Center on Wednesday afternoons to play Mahjong. When I was little, she took me with her several times, but I couldn’t figure out what they were doing.  But I was fascinated by the colorful tiles they used to play the game.  Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to own a set, not of the inexpensive new ones, but a beautiful older set. I’d also like to learn to play the game. Can you help me?

ANSWER: Mahjong has been played in China for over 3,000 years, originating in Canton  during the Qing Dynasty before the days of Confucius. Only Mandarins played it, and the early tiles were handmade from ivory.

In 1911, when China became a republic, the game became popular with all classes of people. Mahjong maers produced tiles of bone and bamboo, or just bamboo, which was cheaper and easier to obtain than ivory. The British brought the game from China to England, and eventually to the United States in the early 1920s.

As a game of skill, strategy, and calculation, Mahjong became the rage. Soon there were as many variations to the rules of the game as groups of people playing it. During the Roaring `20s its popularity soared, but that didn't last long because no one could agree on which rules to follow. The National Mahjong League standardized the rules in 1937, but by this time most players had gone back to playing bridge.

At first glance, the game of Mahjong may seem confusing, even chaotic, especially if the players are experts. They use strange terms, and the rapidity of calling and discarding tiles appears maddening. The goal of Mahjong is to complete as many levels as possible until at least one player has no more moves left. At that point the game ends.

Players use a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols. Some variations may omit some tiles and/or add unique ones. In most variations, each player starts out with 13 tiles. In turn, player each draw and discard tiles until they complete a hand using the 14th drawn tile to form four melds, or sets, and a pair, or eye. Players follow standard rules when drawing tiles and robbing pieces from other players. Standard rules also apply to the use of “simples,” or numbered tiles, and honors, winds and dragons, the kinds of melds allowed, how to deal the tiles, and the order of play.



Mahjong tiles are divided into five groups—suits, dragons, winds, flowers and jokers. There are four winds—north, east, west, and south, and four pieces of each. Three dragons are green, white and red, and there are four of each color. There are three suits—dots, craks and bams, and each suit is numbered from one to nine, with four tiles of each number. Each set also includes eight flower tiles and, depending on the manufacturer of the set, these may depict flowers, mandarins, or seasons of the year. Eight jokers complete the pieces.

Players follow procedures. Each builds a wall 19 tiles face down, two tiers high, in front of each other seated around a table in positions set as points of a compass—North, East, West, and South. The player designated as East starts the game by dealing out the tiles to the others. Players pass the tiles between them In a specified sequence before the game begins, as each player gets rid of unwanted tiles, and hopes to receive pieces which fit a combination in his hand. The game proceeds with drawing and discarding tiles until one player completes a hand which contains 14 tiles in a specific combination, then that player calls "mahjong." Combinations include hands similar to a game of rummy—three of a kind, four of a kind, consecutive runs, etc. Each combination has a listed value for scoring. Sometimes, players draw all the tiles before anyone gets mahjong. It ‘s important for participants to play defensively so that other players don’t complete a hand. Only one player can mahjong.

Finding a complete antique set of tiles requires some perseverance. The completeness of a set depends on the variation of the game being played. As with a deck of cards, it’s essential that all tiles match. Early sets contained 144 tiles, a pair of dice, betting sticks which were used much like poker chips to represent money for wagers, markers portraying the seated players, a counter reflecting the four winds which the “bettor,” a fifth player, used to indicate his or her choice of the winner, and some kind of suitable box in which to store all the pieces. Craftsmen made these boxes of fine, carved woods, inlaid with mother of pearl or fitted with silver or brass handles. Sets made after 1923 often came with a small instruction book.

"Old Hong Kong Mahjong" uses the same basic features and rules as the majority of the different variations of the game. This form of Mahjong uses all of the tiles of the commonly available sets, includes no exotic complex rules, and has a relatively small set of scoring sets/hands with a simple scoring system.

By the early 1900s, Mahjong had become a craze in the United States. The first Mahjong sets came to America from China. Some came in handsome rosewood boxes with separate drawers for the stones, wind, flowers, and other Mahjong tiles. The best of these had fine joinery and ornate brass hardware and dice, but many sets came packed in handpainted cardboard boxes. While tiles in less expensive sets were wooden, those in deluxe sets could be ivory or jade.

Mahjong’s popularity continued into the 1950s, then waned in the second half of the 20th century, but surged again in the 1990s after the publication and film version of Amy Tan’s "The Joy Luck Club."




NOTE: There won’t be an antiques blog next week. Please look for the next one the week of Oct. 15.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

For My Lady’s Dressing Table




QUESTION: When I was a little girl back in the early 1950s, I remember my mother’s skirted dressing table with its many glass and silver boxes, which contained her combs and her perfumes and the fine white powder she used when she went out. Sometimes when she was busy doing something, I would sneak into her bedroom and sit at her dressing table and play with her dressing set, pretending to be a big girl. Now that I’m older and have been all grown up for quite a while, I’d like to find out more about those early dressing sets. I’ve seen some at flea markets, but I have no idea if they’re worth much. Can you help me?

ANSWER:  Dressing table sets first became fashionable in the 18th century. Back then, a variety of items may have graced a lady’s dressing table, including comb and brush sets, little boxes, and perfume bottles. 

Perhaps the most beautiful items of the Victorian lady's dressing table were the brush sets, which included hair brushes, clothes brushes, hat brushes, combs and a hand mirror. These sets became fashionable in the second half  of the 18th century.

Leading silversmiths of the time backed many of them with engraved silver. Others used ivory or tortoiseshell backs, sometimes inlaid with the fancy scrolled monogram of the owner in silver.

Combs have been in existence since ancient Egypt. The Romans taught the Britons to use  combs rather than go through their hair with four fingers. An early alternative to the comb was a scratching stick, often in the form of a hand or bird's foot carved in ivory or hardwood, which ladies might also use to relieve their itching scalps.

There were two categories of combs. Ladies used back, puff and side combs to hold their hair in place after having it styled. Both men and women used dressing and folding combs to arrange their hair, These dressing combs were often part of fancy brush sets.



Early comb makers used cattle horn, ivory, and tortoiseshell for their combs, as well as wood, bone and metal. Ivory and tortoiseshell were the most desirable and costly. At the end of the 19th century, a cheaper substitute for ivory was Xylonite, also called French Ivory, an early form of white plastic sold by the Xylonite Company. Few of these sets have survived because when the brushes wore out, a woman would discard the entire set.

In addition to comb and brush sets, a variety of boxes adorned ladies’ dressing tables. First made in the 17th century, dresser boxes contained a number of tiny compartments and drawers to hold trinkets, jewelry, and other items, and often had a mirror fitted in the inside of them. Today, these have become known generically as “jewelry boxes.”

Patch boxes are small elegant boxes used to store patchet, worn by wealthy women to hide an imperfection or to draw attention to a pleasing facial feature. Made from a variety of materials, patchet were often shaped
like tiny hearts, circles or diamonds.

But powder boxes were the most essential item on the dressing table. Figural ones took the form of half dolls or ballet dancers. From 1870 to 1920 a woman could wear powder without being considered a prostitute, so these boxes appeared in large quantities. A few of them contained a tiny puff, made of fibers or cotton with a tiny handle sticking up.

Another container to hold powder was the talc, a small elongated container similar to a salt  shaker. A lady shook some talc out on her fingers to help ease the often tight-fitting kid gloves onto her hands.

But one of the largest and most ornate containers found on a dressing table was the porcelain trinket box, made by Limoges, Capodimonte, and other European and Asian porcelain companies. Ladies used it to hold button-cufflinks. odd pieces of jewelry, or small souvenirs,. Some featured hand-painted flowers, designs and portraits and came lined with colored plush or velvet. The more elaborate boxes had interior division and trays.

Another required item on a lady’s dressing table was the perfume bottle. The tradition of encasing perfumes in expensive and beautiful containers is an ancient one. Ancient Egyptians used alabaster bottles to store perfumes, due to its density and coolness to prevent evaporation, but they also used elaborate blown glass perfume containers.


The variety of 18th century perfume containers was as wide as that of their fragrances and uses. Liquid perfume came in beautiful Louis XIV-style pear-shaped porcelain bottles. Glass perfume bottles became increasingly popular.



Fine china makers brought out all sorts of dainty things for the dressing table. The hairpin holder, hair receiver, pin tray, manicure set and the small tray upon which it lies, powder boxes, cold-cream casket, lotion bottles, rouge pot, comb and brush, jewel boxes, frames of the hand and triple mirrors, bonbonniere, perfume bottles, sachet holders and the cunning little barrel for small change were all of china and all matched and decorated with small isolated flowers pansies, violets or daisies—scattered carelessly over the entire surface.

Although not as common as porcelain dresser sets, matched dresser sets in cut glass, pressed glass and milk glass appeared in the late 19th century. Cut glass colognes came in a variety of shapes. The stoppers might have matched the design or have been made of silver.

Dressing table sets can range from perhaps $25 at a flea market to over $300,000 at auction, depending on when they were made. Finding one from the 18th century in one piece will be a challenge.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.