Monday, March 26, 2018

A Clock for Everyone's Mantel

QUESTION: I fix up old houses. While cleaning up a house to resell recently, I discovered a heavy clock with pillars on the front that looks as if it had seen better days. At first I was going to toss it in the trash, but when I told my wife, she said to bring it home. When she saw it, she gasped, for it looked like one her grandfather had when she was a child. She loved hearing it chime when she went to visit. The clock needs some restoration, but generally the case is sound. I took it to a clockmaker friend of mine who told me that he could probably get it running and would restore it for several hundred dollars. I’d like to know what kind of clock this is, who made it, and how old it is. Also, would it be worth restoring or should I just look for another one for my wife?

ANSWER: From the photograph you sent, it looks like you have an Ansonia cast-iron clock from about 1904. The company, based first in Derby, Connecticut, then in New York, produced thousands of clocks, but their cast-iron models were some of their best sellers.

The Ansonia Clock Company was one of the major 19th century American clock manufacturers. It produced thousands of clocks between 1850, its year of incorporation, and 1929, the year the company went into receivership and sold its remaining assets to   the Amtorg Trading Corporation in Soviet Russia.

In 1850, Anson Greene Phelps formed the Ansonia Clock Company as a subsidiary of the Ansonia Brass Company with two noted Bristol, Connecticut, clockmakers, Theodore Terry and Franklin C. Andrews. Phelps had been operating a brass rolling mill, the Phelps, Dodge, & Company, which he formed with two of his son-in-laws. To help build up his brass business, Phelps decided to get into the clockmaking business as a way to expand the market for his brass products. It was a shrewd business move, for it allowed him to profit from the manufacture of a clock’s raw components and the finished product as well.

Terry and Andrews thought it was a good business decision for them as well, giving them ready access to large quantities of brass for use in clock movements. They agreed to sell Phelps a 50 percent interest in their clockmaking business in exchange for cheaper brass clock parts and moved their entire operation to Derby, Connecticut— a portion of which was later named Ansonia after Anson Phelps—where Phelps had his brass mill.

By 1853, the firm had begun to produce cast-iron clocks to meet the needs of middle class families for clocks that looked elegant but were affordable. That same year, Ansonia exhibited their cast iron cased clocks, painted and decorated with mother-of-pearl, at the New York World's Fair in Bryant Park. Only two other American clock companies exhibited at the fair, which opened on July 4, 1853—the Jerome Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Litchfield Manufacturing Company of Litchfield, Connecticut, known for its papier-mache clock cases. (Learn more about papier-mache products by reading “Beauty and Strength from Paper” in The Antiques Almanac). Unfortunately, Phelps died a rich man a month after the Fair closed.

Ansonia created their cast-iron clocks to imitate elegant ones being made in France. Their clocks, however, because they made them of cast-iron, were less costly to produce, thus less expensive to buy, making them affordable to middle class homeowners. The paper dial used on this type of clock gave the impression of more expensive enamel ones very convincingly. While some bases were left sold black, others had the look of faux marble, simulating the French ones. Ormulu figures and mounts, on those clocks that had them, had a Japanese Bronze finish. The clocks had an eight-day movement, meaning they only had to be wound every eight days.

An antique cast iron mantle clock with gold gilt accents, manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Company of New York, circa 1904. This elegant mantle clock features a frame inspired by Greek architecture with a top cornice that has a gold bow and ribbon motif in the middle and two reeded columns on each side of the clock face, also with gold gilt details to the top and bottom. The central clock face is white with black roman numerals and hands, which is marked with the maker’s mark near the bottom and is then surrounded by a gilded border with an egg and dart design. The entire clock sits on a solid rectangular base.

This clock is what Ansonia named the “Boston Extra.” Made in 1904, it was a mantel clock with a visible escape movement, enabling the owner to watch the clock ticking, and chimes on the hour and the half hour. It features a pie-crust bezel, four green, full rounded pillars on the front and is very heavy, weighing in at 24 pounds. In 1904, the Boston Extra sold for $11.15 to $14.25. Today, one of these in good condition can sell for over $600. So, yes, it would be good to have it restored.

Learn more about clocks by reading #TheAntiquesAlmanac's Glossary of Antique Clock Styles.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit 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 Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Who Will be Mother?

QUESTION: I love to drink tea. In fact, I began drinking it when I was about 10 years old. I love the aroma and the steam that comes from the cup as I put it to my lips. Of course, as a tea afficionado, I always brew loose tea. But what I can’t stand are the bits of leaves that always seem to end up in the bottom of my cup. A tea strainer is a necessity if brewing tea from leaves. I always had a simple one that fit over the top of my cup and let me pour the tea through it, collecting the dregs in the strainer as it went. Last year, I attended an antique show and treated myself to a beautiful sterling silver tea strainer. I love it. So much so that now I’d like to begin collecting them.                        

ANSWER: People have used tea strainers for centuries. During the 18th and 19th century, when having tea was an important social event, silversmiths made tea strainers for wealthy tea drinkers. Since no one liked fishing loose tea leaves out of their teacup, strainers became a popular tea accessory. Tea strainers enabled hostesses to filter the leaves out while pouring tea in each person’s cup.

After it’s introduction to Europe, tea drinking began to inspire elaborate serving conditions. Unlike in China or Japan where tea drinking had a religious significance, tea drinking rituals in the West emphasized tea’s exotic origins and the server's wealth. Over time, an assortment of locked storage containers, special serving vessels, measuring spoons and other implements became part of any tea service. And, unlike the Chinese, who simply dumped tea into the pot and poured carefully, Europeans devised strainers to remove not only the leaves but also stems, grit, and other debris often found floating in the tea.
By the 17th century, strainer spoons to remove the "motes" or tea debris with perforated bowls and pointed ends for clearing teapot spouts became common.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the silver cup strainer, adapted from wine strainers and from larger two-handled silver punch strainers used to extract lemon and orange juice used in other beverages, appeared. For tea, the cup strainer had one or two handles of silver or other material and fit over the cup to filter tea as it was poured.

By the 19th century silver craftsmen experimented with various designs to secure the cup strainers to the teacup. Some had two handles that straddled the cup while others were made with clasps to clip onto the edge. They also developed stands to support the strainer when it wasn’t in use and to catch the drippings.

Teapot spout strainers, featuring a pierced basket or bucket-shaped strainer with long pins to be inserted in the spout, were another tea trapping device developed in the late 18th century. As a person poured the tea, it flowed through the strainer and into the cup. Although they dripped tea on tablecloths, their dainty appearance and intricate piercings made them a highly desirable tea accessory. Spout strainers were more fashionable in Europe than in America and silver manufacturers created many novelty forms such as helmets, buckets and shells.

In the mid 19th century a new development in brewing came in the form of the tea infuser, also known as a tea ball. Tea balls are perforated, spherical containers made in two parts and connected either by a hinge and clasp or by screw threading.

Tea balls not only trapped tea leaves, but contained them within the pot for the brewing. Tea balls weren’t made in America until after 1880, but they quickly became the most popular tea strainer form used in America. More than 60 prominent American companies, Gorham, produced them in quantity and in whimsical shapes, such as grapes, walnuts, lanterns, faces, teapots, shells, cauldrons, fish, Earth, and the Liberty Bell.

There have also been square tea balls, both an oxymoron and a rarity. A particular favorite is a curled-up dormouse, recalling the unfortunate creature dunked into the teapot during the Mad Hatter's tea party in the children's classic, Alice in Wonderland.

The last form of tea strainer to be invented appeared in England in the 1890's and quickly found its way to the United States. The stick infuser or spoon infuser, consists of a covered spoon-like bowl perforated on both lid and bowl. Like tea balls, tea drinkers filled the stick infusers with tea leaves, but unlike the tea balls, people used them to brew one or two cups of tea. Like the tea ball, the stick infuser gained popularity in the United States. Again. manufacturers presented numerous design variations, replacing the spoon bowl with a ball or heart shape and using different handle forms made of bone, porcelain  and wood. Some stick infusers with upright handles resemble pipes, while others resemble a pair of tongs or an egg on a stick.

The development of the tea bag signaled the end of mass production of silver tea strainers. Today, the tea strainers of the 18th through the early 20th century stand as valuable reminders of the importance of aesthetic pleasure in a social ritual—the serving of tea.

Learn more about the tea experience by reading "The Origin of Afternoon Tea" in #TheAntiquesAlmanac and also about sterling silver tea sets in my Google+ Collection, Antiques and More.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit 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 Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Glassware for the Rich and Famous

QUESTION: My mother was extremely proud of her good glassware and china, which originally belonged to her mother. She would lovingly take it out of her china closet for each special holiday dinner. Boy, how those glasses did shine. I’ve always wondered about what type of glassware this was. My grandmother particularly liked cut glass, and these glasses—water goblets, wine, champagne, etc—had delicate floral designs cut into them. Some told me that they may have been made by the Seneca Glass Company, but I’m not sure. What can you tell me about this company and the glassware that they produced?

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, I can definitely tell you that your grandmother had fine taste, for these pieces are definitely by Seneca Glass. By the early 1920s, the company offered a new line of deep-etched glassware. Your grandmother’s pieces most likely were in this group.

In 1891, a group of immigrant glass artisans and businessmen from Germany's Black Forest region settled in Seneca, Ohio. Seeking to take advantage of the opportunities available in the American glass market, they purchased the former Fostoria Glass Company factory and established the Seneca Glass Company, named after the county where the factory stood and the local Indian tribe of the same name.

But the lure of cheap natural gas, free land, abundant quality glass sand within easy reach, and a city subsidy was too much to resist, so the owners moved the company to Morgantown, West Viriginia. in 1896. They kept the name and over time, the firm
developed a reputation for creating some of the finest lead crystal glassware available anywhere.

Embassies used it, Eleanor Roosevelt bought it, and Americans with finer taste and a pocketbook to match loved it. Seneca produced quality, delicate, mold-blown glassware in a wide variety of forms for the next 86 years. It became known for its striking cut glass patterns. Some of the patterns were so complex, they took an experienced cutter 12 hours to complete. Later years, company owners boasted that Seneca had more than1,000 cut glass patterns available.

Popularity grew quickly as the word got out in social circles. Large-scale retail stores all over the country began ordering Seneca products. Over the years, Seneca Glass received orders from B. Altman's and Tiffany's in New York, Marshall Fields and Company in Chicago, Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Philadelphia's highly regarded John Wanamaker Department Store, placed an order for 218 dozen glassware items, all cut with the crest of the president of Liberia which the company planed to sell him for his executive mansion.

Not to be outdone by private organizations and foreign powers, the U.S. State Department ordered Seneca crystal for 30 American embassies and consulates in 1944 and 1945.

While searching for glassware for a special occasion, Eleanor Roosevelt chose stems in an obsolete Seneca pattern, being sold at the reduced price of 25 cents each. These she chose over patterns offered by the store's staff from famous firms, expensive glassware items priced in excess of $50 a dozen. Mrs. Roosevelt used her bargain Seneca glassware at a State dinner held in honor of England's King George VI.

Mrs. Roosevelt wasn’t the last person associated with the White House to order Seneca glass. Ladybird Johnson purchased peach champagne glasses in Seneca’s Epicure pattern for Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Each glass had the vice president's initials, LBJ, and an Open Road Stetson hat, her husband's trademark headgear, etched on it.  Jacqueline Kennedy also used Seneca glassware in the White House.
Today, Seneca glassware is highly prized and actively sought by an ever-growing group of collectors with impeccable taste.

Seneca’s glassware was handmade and mold blown. Glass blowers produced such glassware by first gathering a small, molten blob of glass on the end of a hollow pipe or rod. By plowing through the pipe and manipulating it in certain ways, a glass worker would pre-shape the slowly cooling, glowing mass. The blower then inserted the pre-shaped "gather" into an iron mold—a mold that a skilled Seneca artisan had produced. Blowing into the pipe forced the hot glass to conform to the shape of the inside of the mold.

Depending on the specific object being produced, several operations could follow. For example, on stemware, the molding of the stem and foot might be done with forms and paddles or an intricate stem might be produced using a mold. Once the glass worker formed an item, he annealed or reheated it and allowed it to cool gradually and uniformly to avoid uneven cooling that would shatter the glass in an oven called a lehr. Other workers would then send the cooled object on for finishing, including the removal of excess glass, grinding and polishing.

One glass decorating technique, the “optic,” directly involved the shape of the interior of the mold itself. The interior of the mold could be shaped in panels, pillars, spirals, swags, and other interesting shapes. These shapes become part of the shape of the body of the glass formed in the optic mold. Seneca used this technique to create a variety of pleasing optics.

Seneca also produced wares decorated with needle and plate etchings and sandblasted decorations. Artisans also used other decorative techniques, including banding and metallic decorations. While elegantly cut lead crystal would be what came to consumers' minds first when they thought of Seneca glass, the company did offer a variety of colored glassware. The quantities of colorful glasses and tablewares available fluctuated over the decades, reflecting changes in public taste. Colored glassware would be offered in larger amounts during the later years, beginning around the 1960s.
Some of Seneca's specific glassware forms included goblets, sherbets or champagnes, cocktails, oyster cocktails, sherries, wine glasses, clarets, and cordial glasses classified as "stemware;" ice teas, hi-balls, old fashioneds, juices, and water glasses grouped as "tumblers;" along with a variety of decorative glassware" or "artware," including bowls, candle-holders, and vases.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit 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 Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Souvenir of a Loved One

QUESTION: I recently attended an antiques show at which one of the dealers had a beautiful display of antique hair mourning jewelry. What can you tell me about this unique art form? Is it still practiced today?

ANSWER:  Mourning jewelry was a souvenir to remember a loved one, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death, and a status symbol, especially during the Victorian Era.

The earliest examples of mourning jewelry originated in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. People often set black-and-white enameled heads or skulls into rings and brooches. In the 17th' and 18th centuries hair became a status symbol to present mourning rings to friends and families of the bereaved.

Mourning jewelry reached its peak popularity in England after the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep mourning, which her subjects imitated when faced with their own bereavement:.

Hair, a symbol of life, has been associated with death and funerals in many cultures Egyptian tomb paintings portray scenes showing pharaohs and queens exchanging hair balls as tokens of enduring love.

But it was in Sweden that commercial hairwork began centuries later. The craft of hairwork spread throughout Europe. Jewelers made beautifully detailed landscapes and floral designs using human hair. In England in the late 18th century they bordered early neo-classical style pieces with seed pearls surrounding the words "In Memorium" and a panel of simple, twisted hair. During the 19th century, Queen Victoria presented Empress Eugene with a bracelet of her own hair, and the Queen recorded in her diary that the Empress was "touched to tears."

The 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition featured a full line of hair jewelry, as well as a full tea set made entirely of hair. By the 1850s hair was an expensive commodity with a variety of commercial uses. Every spring hair merchants visited fairs and markets throughout Europe where they offered young girls ribbons, combs and trinkets in exchange for their hair.

Hair jewelry caught on in the United States by the 1860s. During the Civil War, soldiers would leave a lock of their hair with their families as they left home to join the fight. Upon the soldier's death, the family would often have the hair made into a piece of mourning jewelry or placed in a locket. These were gold or black, and were sometimes engraved with "In Memory Of" and the initials or names of the deceased.

Beginning in the 1850s through the 1900s, hairwork became a drawing room pastime. Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazine gave instructions and patterns for making brooches, cuff links and bracelets at home. To further the craze for the home-based craft, Godey's reminded readers that while mourning etiquette said that women should only wear jet jewelry for first mourning, for the second mourning, a woman could wear a brooch and bracelet made of hair with a gold and black enamel clasp. Even a watch chain or plain gold belt buckle was permissible for widowers to wear if made of hair or if it enclosed hair.

Women did hairwork on a round table. Depending on the height of the table, it could be done sitting or standing. Women's work tables were usually 32 or 33 inches high, and men's tables stood 4 feet. Preparation was important. The hair had to be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. It was then sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20 to 30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long hair. For example, a full-size bracelet called for hair 20 to 24 inches long. Sometimes horse hair was used because it was coarser than human hair, and thus easier for beginners.

Women made almost all hairwork around a old or firm material. Snake bracelets and brooches, spiral earrings and other fancy hair forms required special molds which local wood turners made for them. The women attached the mold to the center hole in the worktable. Then they wound the hair on a series of bobbins. They  attached weights to the braid work to maintain the correct level and to keep the hair straight. When they finished and while the work was still around the mold, they removed the hair and the mold, boiled it for 15 minutes, then dried and removed the hair from the mold. It was then ready to be sent to a jewelers for mounting.

The use of mourning jewelry slowly died out at the beginning of the 20th century. Hair jewelry and other forms of hairwork were particularly popular during the 19th century but are still practiced today as a home craft.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit 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 Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.