Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bringing Light to the Farm

QUESTION: The other day I was going through some old things that belonged to my father and came across what looks to be an almost brand-new Coleman lantern still in its box. Since I’m not much of a camper myself, I wondered if people collect these lanterns and if they have any value.

ANSWER: According to your photo, your lantern looks to be one made in the late 1940s. Soldiers who had fought in World War II and had used special field stoves designed and made by the Coleman Company were familiar with their products. So as they settled down to have families, they saw the need for vacations. Car camping became very popular, as these new families loaded up their station wagons and headed out to explore America.

Anyone who has gone camping knows the glow emitted from campgrounds as campers sit around their tables having dinner by the light of a Coleman lantern. Promoted as the "sunshine of the night," these lanterns have long since become essential gear to car campers.

The incandescent electric light, invented in 1879, was a long way from reaching rural America in 1900, when William C. Coleman, an itinerant salesman, first sold indoor pressurized gasoline units, which he called Efficient Lamps. Coleman had poor eyesight, and the standard lamp of that time burned kerosene and produced a smoky, flickering, yellowish light. The steady white light produced by his new lamp enabled him to read even the smallest print. Two years later he bought the manufacturing rights for the lamp, and by 1905 he had begun producing them in his Wichita, Kansas, factory.

By1909, Coleman had improved his 300-candlepower, portable table so that it provided light in every direction for 100 yards and could light the far corners of a barn. Single handedly, he changed the way farmers worked and thus increased their productivity. His lamp became a staple in rural America, eventually transforming the local company into a national one on which people depended.

Coleman’s initial lamp featured decorative brass or nickel-plated elements that arched up around the lantern´s glass shade, providing an upper loop for hanging or grasping the lantern for barn use. Later, he designed ones with bulbous bases that could sit on tables. And like other lamps at the time, some had colorful glass shades with elaborate designs around the edges.

Coleman’s first lamps for indoor use differed from oil lamps. Each had a pressure tank that acted as its base, replacing the oil lamp's fount or reservoir. In place of the oil lamp's chimney and wick, Coleman’s lamp used a generator, which vaporized air-forced white gas. The burning vapors ignited a mantle of loosely woven fabric. Both of these features helped Coleman lamps produce 20 times more light than oil wick lamps.

By 1914, the first self-contained, portable Coleman lanterns for outdoor use—the ones so familiar to campers today—appeared on the market. He enlarged the fount so that it stored two quarts of white gas, enclosed the generator and mantles in a wind- and bug-proof glass globe, and added a bail for easy carrying and hanging.

Coleman designers continued to improve their lanterns and by the 1930s, many came with housings in   different colors. The tops of some of the lamps of this period had a green finish which eventually became the signature look of Coleman products. The company also supplied lanterns to the National Forest Service, some of which bore the familiar “NFS” insignia.

From the 1940s on, Coleman lanterns featured a forest green finish combined with shiny nickel-plated brass elements. The upper and lower parts of one of the company’s most popular and long-running lanterns, the Model 200A, produced from 1952 through 1983, are bright red.

Most people use Coleman lanterns for camping. They’re as prized now as they were decades ago for chasing darkness from a campsite. When night falls, a few strokes on the pump primes it for action. And at the touch of a match the lantern throws its magic circle of light in a 360-degree arc.

Starting in 1901, Coleman has produced close to 50 million gas lanterns. The long history and the range of styles and models makes the Coleman lantern a popular collectible that’s affordable for most collectors. A Coleman lantern can sell today for $20 to $400, depending on its age, condition, and rarity.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How About a Game of Bones?

QUESTION: While traveling on a recent trip to Cuba I noticed men playing dominoes on a table in a park. There were several games going. This took me back to my childhood when my grandfather taught me how to play dominoes. We used an ordinary black wooden set that had the image of a dragon pressed into the back. I'm certain the dominoes came from the five and dime store. I also remember drawing face-down dominoes from the so-called bone yard when none of the remaining ones in my hand could be matched with those on the table. The first player to rid himself of all his dominoes by matching them to others on the table was the winner. This, I learned later, was the draw game.  I haven’t played the game in a long time, but I’d like to know a little more about it. How and when did it originate? Are there different forms?

ANSWER: The game of dominoes, or bones, as some like to call it, has been around since the 12th century. Legend says that a Chinese statesman invented the game of dominoes which he presented to the Emperor Hui Tsung in 1120 C.E. and which were circulated abroad by imperial order during the reign of Hui's son, Kao-Tsung seven years later.

During the 18th century, the game reached Venice and Naples. No one knows if a set had been brought back from China or whether an Italian created his own game. The game changed in the translation from Chinese to the European culture. European sets contained seven additional dominoes, with six of these representing the values that resulted from throwing a single die with the other half of the tile left blank, and the seventh domino representing the blank-blank (0–0) combination. By the late 18th century, the game of dominoes had arrived in Britain from France where it became popular in inns and taverns.

The word "domino" probably came from the Latin word dominus, meaning “the master of the house.” This evolved through French, then English to domino. The word “domino” first referred to a type of monk’s hood, then to a black hooded masquerade costume with a white mask worn during the Venetian Carnival, then to the mask itself, and finally to one of the pieces in the domino set, namely the one-on-one tile.

The game moved from Italy to France in the early 18th Century and became a fad. By the late 18th century, France began producing two types of domino puzzles. In the first, a person placed tiles on a given pattern in such a way that the ends matched. In the second type, a person places tiles on a given pattern based on arithmetic sums of the pips, usually totals of lines of tiles and tile halves.

European-style dominoes are rectangular tiles of wood or ivory—thus the nickname bones—that are twice as long as they are wide. Each has a line dividing its face with two square ends. Each end has a number of spots called pips that range from one to six. There’s a single tile for each combination of the faces of a pair of dice. The backs of the dominoes in a set are either blank or had a common design. The domino gaming pieces make up a domino set, sometimes called a deck or pack. The traditional domino set consists of 28 dominoes, featuring all combinations of spot counts between zero and six. A domino set is a generic gaming device, similar to playing cards or dice, in that a variety of games can be played with a set.

Dominoes have traditionally been made of bone or ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips, either inlaid or painted. Alternatively, domino sets have been made from many different natural materials, including various types of stone, woods; metals, ceramics, or glass .

Tiles are generally named after their two values. Deuce-five or five-deuce are alternative ways of describing the tile with the values two and five. Tiles that have the same value on both ends are called doubles. Players refer to them as double-zero, double-one, etc. Tiles with two different values are called singles.

The most common domino sets commercially available are double six, with 28 tiles, and double nine, with 55 tiles.

It’s amazing how many forms of the game can be played with just 28 dominoes. In addition to the basics like the draw game and the block game, there are games with unusual names like Sebastopol, Bergin, Rounce, Sniff, All Fives, Fives & Threes, and Flower and Scorpion.

While wooden dominoes are the most commonly found, the best ones are made of oblong pieces of ivory, with ebony backs. One hundred years ago, a set of polished bone dominoes in a mahogany box would have cost as much as $4, while ordinary bone dominoes sold for as little as 50 cents.

Dominoes are an affordable collectible. Only the best ebony and bone sets sell for  $100 or so today. Celluloid sets from the 1930s, made by the Elkloid Company of Providence, Rhode Island, sell for around half that. Other sets, tied to special events like world’s fairs, can go for much more. And the more common sets like the one used above sell for very little.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Leftovers from the Medicine Show

QUESTION: I have  a collection of old medicine bottles, all unopened, that I from an old local pharmacy that I bought at auction. Most contain narcotics and have the original corks intact in them.  How should I dispose of the contents, mostly liquid, some pills, how to remove the corks to save them, as well as how to clean the bottles without ruining the labels?

ANSWER: Old medicine bottles can contain some nasty substances. Many are extremely volatile and shouldn’t be mixed with any other substance. But before I get to disposing of the contents, it’s important to know what the laws are governing them.

Collectors of old medicine bottles do so for the bottles, themselves, if made before 1920. They’re especially interested in the bottle shapes. Those who collect bottles made after 1920 collect them for their contents and their labels. Generally, while collectibles, like cereal boxes, are worth more with their contents unopened, this isn’t so with old medicine bottles.

Laws governing the sale of containers with flammable, corrosive or poisonous contents have been on the books since 1908.  Cough syrups and other medicines often contain alcohol, classified as a flammable liquid by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The penalties are severe for selling bottles containing dangerous substances, especially in today’s terrorist-prone world.

Nationally, it’s the responsibilities of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to regulate toxic substances and investigate violations. In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which became the legal foundation of the government's fight against the abuse of drugs and other substances.

The law is a bit lax when it comes to poisons, such as strychnine and a deadly product called mercury bi-chloride, formerly used as an anti-syphilitic and to clean wounds. So how do you dispose of nasty substances like this?

While most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, you need to take certain precautions before tossing them out, according to the FDA. The agency used to recommend that people flush some drugs down the toilet, but they no longer do since some of these dangerous substances have been found in the soil and water table. One possibility is to pour kitty litter into a plastic bucket and then pour the bottle contents—cough syrups and other liquids—into it. Let it sit for a while, then scoop up the kitty litter into a double plastic bag and toss it into your trash. Make sure you use enough kitty litter to soak up the contents. Do this outside preferably on the day before your trash will be collected.

You can do the same with pills and capsules, but instead of kitty litter, use coffee grounds. Pour the capsules in a Zip-Loc plastic storage bag containing the coffee grounds and mix the pills into them. Seal and place in your trash.

If you’re not sure how dangerous your bottle’s contents might be, you can look up the medicine in an older edition of the Physician’s Desk Reference or the Merck Manual. However, some of these substances, such as mercury bi-chloride, may no longer be used and, therefore, won’t be listed in any of the reference books. If in doubt, check with a local pharmacist.

The easiest way to clean old medicine bottles after you have disposed of the contents is to rinse them with a solution of warm soapy water. Don’t make the water too warm or the label will come loose. If the bottle has any residue or stains in it, especially those with narrow necks and small openings, you can buy a set of inexpensive fish cleaning brushes from your local pet store. If you can’t find these, check the baby aisle in your local drug store for soft bristle baby bottle brushes. If the stain persists, pour a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water and let it set for a few hours, then try brushing the inside of the bottle again.

Unfortunately, the corks on old medicine bottles will have absorbed some of the solution and are just as dangerous as the bottle’s original contents, so throw them out. However, you can reuse those on bottles containing pills.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Blanket That Warmed and Won the North

QUESTION: My grandmother recently passed away. As my family was going through her things, I found an old woolen blanket with three stripes on a cream-colored background. My mother told me that the blanket was given to someone a few generations back by a friend who lived in Canada. I think I’ve seen blankets like this before, but I can’t remember where. Can you tell me anything about this blanket? The label that’s on it has faded and it’s hard to read.

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, it looks like you have a Hudson’s Bay Blanket. These wooly, warm blankets, often white with bold bright bands of colors, are the heavy Hudson's Bay blankets have been keeping people comfortable for years.

The Hudson's Bay Point Blanket—its official name—is far more than a fashionable accent piece for the rustic interior. These blankets have a long history that’s as interesting as they are warm. They played a key role in the European settling of North America.

The durable, all-wool, British-made blankets have been coming to North America for over 300 years. Fur traders of the 17th and 18th centuries used these blankets as a primary implement of barter in exchange for beaver pelts. According to company records, the earliest reference to any commercial blankets being used for trade is from 1682, but the first authentic Hudson’s Bay blanket, made by Thomas Empson of Witney in Oxfordshire, England, dates from 1740. These blankets soon became a staple trading item.

It was the trade in beaver pelts that eventually led to the exploration and settlement of Canada, and of the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company. Men crossed oceans and hacked their way through the wilderness of North America just to hunt beaver. For about 150 years, from the late 16th century until around the mid 19th century, beaver felt hats were all the rage in fashion.

But the Hudson's Bay Company didn’t invent the point blanket. The idea to weave points, or a small dark stripe, into a blanket was actually a 16th-century French idea.

It was Germain Maugenest who suggested putting points on the Hudson Bay blankets in 1779. The former French trapper who switched allegiance to England said his countrymen had been trading pointed blankets, which the Indians preferred.

The points, about 6 inches in length, originally ranged from one to three on each blanket. Some blankets had half-points. The points designated the blanket's size. When trading with the Indians commenced, each point equaled a beaver. Thus, points broke down language barriers and promoted trade.

The beaver-for-blanket deal favored the Indians, who were not ruthlessly exploited as speculation has presumed.

Two French explorers, Pierre-Espirit Radisson and Medard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers, sparked the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the mid-17th century they had independently explored the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and established a trading relationship with the Cree tribe. Radisson even had been adopted by them.

But the French Colonial Government based in New France (Quebec) seized the voyagers' furs without permission. It was suggested they leave New France altogether and trap in the British Colonies to the south in New England.

Disheartened by the treatment of their own countrymen, the pair traveled to Boston. There they met Colonel George Cartwright, who had been sent by Charles II to New England to placate the residents and collect taxes. Cartwright brought them back to London in 1666 to meet with the King.

Charles Il charged his cousin, Prince Rupert, with the task of outfitting two ships—the Nonsuch and the Eaglet—to make the journey to New France. Although the Eaglet had to turn back after storm damage, the Nonsuch arrived in September 1668 and obtained both land and furs from the natives of James Bay.

When the Nonsuch arrived in London laden with furs, King Charles II bestowed a Royal Charter upon Prince Rupert and his associates. They were described as "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay." They now had "sole trade and commerce" in all of the lands that drained into the enormous bay. The Hudson's Bay Company officially came into existence May 2, 1670 and is still in business.

Over the next 300 years, the Hudson Bay Company established over 500 trading posts, including many forts. The quest for the beaver pushed company operations from the Hudson Bay all the way to Pacific coast, south into California and into the Northern Plains.

The earliest Hudson Bay blankets traded in Canada were those with solid colors with a wide band of darker color on each end. White blankets with a dark band were the most popular, as they proved to be good winter camouflage when hunting. Other solid colors were indigo, scarlet, green and light blue. All had a single wide dark band at each end, and points.

The Company introduced the multistriped blanket on white around 1820. The color order of stripes on modern blankets, from the inside out, is green, red, yellow, and indigo. Older blankets had a different color order than later ones. The earlier style has also been called a "chief's blanket."

Native people in both Canada and America found many uses for the blankets. Some were cut up to make coats, called capotes, while others were used to make leggings and rifle scabbards. Native peoples carried and draped them as part of their everyday clothing, but they also used them as covers while sleeping and even as burial shrouds.

The Hudson Bay Company sold many blankets in pairs. The purchaser could keep them intact as a single large blanket or cut them in half to make two regular size blankets. For instance, using today's sizing standards, a four-point blanket measures 72 by 90 inches (double bed). But if it were sold as a pair it would be 72 by 180 inches.

The typical trade blanket had three points and was white with a dark band at each end. The three-point was considered a good personal size for wearing and sleeping. In the early 19th century a three-point measured 72 by 62 inches. They didn’t have labels back then.

The multistriped blanket, with its 180-year popularity track record, has been copied by many other manufacturers. Lookalikes include the Polar Star and Rugby Striped (J.C. Penny), Glacier Park (Pendleton), and Greenlander (Woolrich). The "Genuine Trapper Point Blanket" is another knockoff made by the T. Eaton company in the early 20th century.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Postcards from the Attic

QUESTION: My grandfather collected postcards for years. Now I have his collection. While it’s great to look at, I have no idea of where to start finding out about the hundreds of cards he collected. Can you please help me?

ANSWER: To begin, deltiology—postcard collecting—is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. Most people collect postcards for four reasons: (1) Nostagia. Many older collectors seek out pictures of “the good ole days” or "the way it used to be.” Younger ones seek out the places or characters from their childhood. (2) Cost. Many items have soared in price, but postcards can still be obtained for from 10-cents to $10 each. (3) Investment. Postcards that sold for 10 cents less than 10 years ago now bring $1 to $5 and more. (4) Art and printing. The art on a postcard often determined the printing process and vice versa, from the lithochromes of the 1890's to the photochromes (photo cards) of today.

There are still many millions of postcards packed away in attics. Many, neatly tucked away in albums for the last 90-100 years, are in pristine condition. When postcards sold for 1 cent to 10 cents each, not very many people thought it worthwhile to search a dusty attic for them. Today, that’s all changed.

You’ll find postcards for sale at garage sales, flea markets, antique shops, and stamp shows. The most popular ones are the “hometown views.” Many show main streets with gas lights, trolleys, horse-drawn vehicles, store signs, sidewalk sales, bustles, hoopskirts, knickers, hightop shoes, and Model-T Fords. Those who collect for nostalgic reasons love these.

Then there are those from family vacations and foreign tours. Those who travel frequently often bring back views of the places they’ve been on postcards to put into albums either in place of their own photographs or in addition to them. They could pick up free cards from motels, hotels, resorts, and restaurants and, of course, purchase many scenic view cards of popular vacation spots. In fact, the act of sending picture postcards to the folks back home began as an American pastime.

And you shouldn’t ignore the greeting postcards, sent by Victorians in the latter part of the 19th century to express holiday and birthday greetings.

Postcard collecting was a huge craze in the early 20th century, with peak years running from about 1907 to 1913. People used these cards to keep in touch with friends and family, much as people use Facebook today. Couples courted using postcards and strangers met other strangers in foreign countries. By the end of the peak period in 1913, people had sent over 968,000,000 postcards. If even a fraction of all those cards have made it into the hands of dealers, the supply would be overwhelming. In fact, because so many have come into the market, the price for most postcards remains relatively reasonable.

Most collectors seem to collected cards for their pictorial value and not as much for their condition. During the peak years, many seemed willing to pay a few cents for old cards, focusing on topics like bridges and courthouses which are of little interest today. And with over 120 different topics to choose from, it’s no wonder that the hobby has grown so much.

Many collectors refused to consider any card made after 1920. They especially liked photographic postcards for their historical significance. Mid-20th-century roadside and local views have now increased in popularity and price. And it’s become difficult to find city views from the 1940s and 1950s.

Dating used postcards is simple—just check the postmark on back. However, it can be harder to figure the date of unused ones. Early cards from before 1900 to 1918 have good detail and no border.

Those with a white border date from 1919 to 1932. Most of the cards were view cards which were often pale with low contrast. Paper stock at the time had a coated surface, resulting in a flat non-glossy appearance. 

Linen texture-cards dominated the market from 1933 until the early 1950's. The majority of view cards from this era are boring and unattractive, especially those featuring scenery. Real photos of tourist areas were also fairly common in this era because the linen texture actually took away from the picture. Photographic cards from this time are generally glossier and more contrasty than earlier ones and have titles in white letters close to the bottom of the picture.

As with postage stamps, the condition of a postcard falls into one of six categories—mint, near mint, excellent, very good, good, and fair. Cards in the last condition aren’t considered collectible unless they’re very rare.

To find out more about your cards and to maintain and grow your collection, you might want to join one of over 70 postcard clubs in the U.S. Most of these clubs issue bulletins that have valuable postcard information, stories, and pictures. Even if a club isn’t close enough to make it convenient for you to attend meetings, it’s worth joining, if only for the bulletins and membership rosters, so that you can begin trading with other members.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Communicating with the Dearly Departed

QUESTION: I recently saw a Ouija Board for sale at a Saturday flea market at my local fire company. It brought back a lot of pleasant memories. When I was a kid, one of my friends got a Ouija Board.  Every Saturday afternoon, we would play with it for hours, asking it questions about life and potential relationships. I realize it was only a toy, but can you tell me how Ouija Boards originated and how come they became so popular?

ANSWER: Although Ouija Boards gained popularity from the 1960s to the 1980s, they actually originated in 1890 during the Age of Spiritualism.

The year was 1890 and the age of Spiritualism was in full swing. Founded on the belief that people could communicate with the dearly departed, the movement often depended on "mediums" who fell into a trance and spoke for the dead, or unconsciously wielded pens or pencils to spell out messages termed called "automatic" writings. Ordinary people gathered around the kitchen table and invited the disembodied to rock it to spell out coded messages, or employed a "dial plate" imprinted with numbers and letters and fitted with a free-floating pointing device a spirit might manipulate to deliver a message from the other side.

But each of these conduits to the Netherworld had its limitations. Tables were cumbersome, mediums were difficult to find, and automatic writing was as impossible to read as a doctor's prescription. Then a popular refinement to automatic writing called the “planchette"—French for "little plank"—came into being. This palm-sized, heart-shaped piece of wood supported by three wheeled casters, usually made of bone, had a pointed end with a hole in which a person could insert a pencil. This allowed the device to glide over a piece of paper leaving a trail of legible notes from the dearly departed.

In 1886, an article appeared from the new Associated Press about the “talking board,” a new phenomenon taking over the spiritualists’ camps in Ohio, with letters, numbers and a planchette-like device to point to them. Charles Kennard of Baltimore, Maryland read it and sensed there was money to be made. In 1890, he gathered together a group of four other investors—including Elijah Bond, a local attorney, and Colonel Washington Bowie, a surveyor—to start the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make and market these new talking boards. None of the men were spiritualists, but they knew a great business opportunity.

The first "talking board" produced by the Kennard Novelty Company would not only field answers from the Other Side, but also become the canvas for a unique form of American pop art for the next 70 years. Regardless of being named after a fabled Moroccan city spelled "Oujda" or "Oujida" or maybe from the French and German words for yes and no, "oui".and ja," its title became "Ouija" in English. Over time, the boards themselves became pure Americana.

By 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company had seven factories—two in Baltimore, two in New York, two in Chicago, and one in London. And by 1893, the other two original investors kicked Kennard and Bond out. By this time, William Fuld, who started as a worker a the new company and rose to become foreman and a stockholder, was running the company. In 1897, Bowie leased the rights to manufacture the Ouija board to William and his brother Isaac.

Fuld ran the company for the next 35 years, and it was his Ouija Board that exists in one form or another today. After he died from a fall in 1921, his children took over the business, manufacturing the family boards until 1966 when they sold out to Parker Brothers.

Almost before the ink could dry on Kennard's original patent, shops across the country began turning out almost exact copies of his talking board with enough variation to satisfy the law. Others simply borrowed the basic design elements of the original and added graphics that ranged from cartoon-like to grandiose. Through the 1960s hundreds of companies manufactured talking boards, their designs often reflecting the times.

Popular board themes included the Middle East, Egypt and the Zodiac, but board makers placed all sorts of emblems and icons on their creations. There was a Mitchie Manitou board that celebrated an arcane spirit of the Algonquin Indians, a Halloween board with witches, an Age of Aquarius board in the 1960s, and a New Age board in the 1970s. Artistry aside, the appeal of the talking board remained its dual nature as a parlor game, a toy, and a device for communicating with the dearly departed.

As a parlor game the talking board was the hula-hoop of its time. The instructions on the back of most boards said that two persons—ideally of the opposite sex—were to sit across from each other in a quiet, darkened room, supporting the board between them on their knees, and hope for something magical. And for some, that undoubtedly happened.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Piece for Every Food

QUESTION: An uncle of mine collected Victorian silverware. All the pieces he had—some 400–were from the same pattern, Renaissance. One day, he invited me over for lunch. And to my surprise, he laid out two place settings of this beautiful silverware. Not only did we use the usual fork, knife, and spoon, but we also used numerous serving pieces. Why did the Victorians use so many different pieces of silverware? Did people try to outdo each other by seeing how many different pieces they could use at a single meal?

ANSWER: Today, some people break out their silverware service for eight or twelve for holiday meals and special occasions. It naturally goes with the “good china.” But in the second half of the 19th century, wealthy Victorians laid out as many as eight to ten pieces at each place setting! How could they afford to do this? Well, for one thing, they had lots of money, and secondly, they had servants to wash and polish all those pieces.

By the 1850s, table etiquette in the English-speaking world had begun to undergo dramatic changes, thanks in part to Queen Victoria. But the invention in 1830 of a silver plating process for applying, or electroplating, a coating of pure silver to a base metal, usually copper or a zinc alloy, sealed the deal.

Up until this time silver had been sterling, solid silver that was 925 parts pure silver per thousand—coin silver, solid silver made from melted down coins and containing varying amounts of pure silver, and Sheffield plate, a process that fused two sheets of sterling silver to either side of a core sheet of copper. Sheffield plate, named for the region of England, near Birmingham, where it was manufactured, was a process suited for household items, such as bowls, goblets, cups, and trays, but not suited for eating utensils.

Although Victoria's reign began in 1837, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the opulence, extravagance, and rigidly adhered to social rituals and etiquette associated with the Victorian era reached their height. By 1850, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, both in England and America. Manufacturers could produce silverware somewhat inexpensively thanks to silverplating, and Queen Victoria set a new standard for social mores that centered around the home and family.

For centuries, flatware, or what most people called silverware, had consisted solely of spoons and ladles of varying sizes and materials, simple forks, and cutlery, or knives. People used forks with two or three tines to hold food for cutting and used knives to spear their food and transfer it to their mouths for eating. Queen Victoria soon changed that.

She frowned upon the use of the knife for spearing food. In order to discourage this practice, she encouraged silverware manufacturers to blunt the sharp ends of knife blades. The fork, until this time used primarily for holding food in place while people cut and speared it—much like our present day carving forks—became the utensil of choice. The rule became, never use a knife if a spoon can be used, and never use a spoon if a fork can be used. By the late 1800s, manufacturers were producing forks for every conceivable use—dinner forks, luncheon forks, salad forks, dessert forks, pastry forks, fish forks, oyster forks, berry forks and ice-cream forks, to name a few.

They also produced a variety of spoons—teaspoons, five-o'clock spoons (slightly smaller than a regular teaspoon), coffee or demitasse spoons, chocolate spoons, round cream soup spoons, bullion spoons (smaller than cream soup spoons), dessert spoons, cereal spoons, and more.

However, people still needed knives for cutting, so silverware makers produced dinner knives, luncheon knives, breakfast knives, fruit knives and butter knives. To emphasize the lesser role to which the knife had been relegated, matching knives, especially those with hollow handles, became less common than today. Victorian-era place setting knives, with the exception of butter knives and spreaders, usually had solid and plain or pearl handles, as well as handles of wood, bone, and ivory.

But it was the Victorian serving pieces where the extravagance and opulence of design was the most apparent. In addition to the traditional serving spoon, serving fork, gravy ladle, butter knife and sugar spoon that are staples of today’s silver services, Victorian silver manufacturers produced such items as asparagus servers, berry spoons, cucumber servers, fish servers, oyster ladles, soup ladles, preserve spoons, salt spoons, toast servers, tomato servers, and waffle servers, among many others. These  pieces were large and ornately decorated. They often heavily embossed the bowls of serving spoons and the base of the handles of serving forks and knives.
Once word of the electroplating process spread to the United States, a bevy of small silver manufacturers sprang up, primarily in Connecticut. Companies such as Oneida, Reed and  Barton, William Rogers, 1847 Rogers Brothers, and Wallace, became prominent and produced some of the most collectible silver flatware of that era. Ironically, the first patterns produced in any amount were silver plate. Later, in response to customer requests, they produced some of the same patterns in sterling. Later on, they made different patterns in sterling to distinguish them from silver plate.

Makers gave their silverware patterns names rather than numbers to identify them, the idea being that names would be easier to remember than numbers. They also thought that the names, themselves, would evoke an image of gracious living. Pattern names such as Moselle, Renaissance, Berkshire, Vintage, New Century, Orange Blossom, Grenoble, and York Rose are reminiscent of that refined era.

There are probably as many different ways of collecting and reasons for collecting as there are patterns and pieces in Victorian flatware. The next time you watch a TV series like “Downton Abbey,” notice the table settings. The prop department went out of their way to make sure that everything was exactly right and even instructed the actors in the proper etiquette for the time.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

One Person's Trash is Another's Treasure

QUESTION: I’m new to garage and yard saling. Last year, I went out every Saturday but all I came home with was junk. I collect a number of things and am always looking for additions to my collections. Can you give me some tips on how to make my bargain hunting trips more successful?

ANSWER: It’s Spring time and along with the flowers blooming are the yard and garage sales that seem to pop up everywhere. Fifty years ago—yes, that’s how long they’ve been going on—there weren’t that many and people had lots of interesting things to sell. But today competition is fierce, not only from other garage and yard sales but from eBay and other online sales sites. So what’s the secret?

While garage and estate sales are great venues for bargain hunters, there are sometimes way too many bargain hunters for the number of bargains out there. It used to be—and generally still is—that the contents sold at garage sales represent items the seller has outgrown physically and/or emotionally. On the other hand , the articles offered in estate and moving sales typically reflect an array of accumulated household goods spanning one to three generations. Both of these types of sales have become American institutions.

Whether you’re an antiques collector or just like decorative arts, collectibles, books or toys, chances are you’ll find something in these sales that fits your fancy.

To be a successful bargain hunter requires organization and planning. Those who just hop in their cars and head for the nearest neighborhood sale are likely to be disappointed. But the experienced garage saler is another animal altogether. If you’re looking for items to add to your collections, make a want list before you go so that you can spot an item you want when you get there.

This will help you stay focused in your pursuit of bargains. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked when encountering unexpected bargains at sales. Before you know it, you’ll have spent all the money you brought along. Remember, garage and estate sales don’t take credit cards.  Prioritize your stops according to your interests. If you’re after antiques and collectibles, go through the Garage Sale ads in the classifieds or look at yard sale and neighborhood sites on the Internet. Highlight those sales that emphasize antiques and collectibles. Garage and estate sales in established or older neighborhoods usually offer the best selection of these items while those in newer developments offer contemporary items like clothing, cheap furniture, and kids’ toys.

When setting up your schedule, decide if you’re making a full day of it. If so, plan accordingly. Pack up your vehicle the night before with equipment to make your bargain hunting easier. Besides a measuring tape, veteran garage salers take along the classifieds ads relevant to the day's tour, a map, magnifying glass, snacks, a variety of fresh batteries, packing materials, boxes, and a sufficient amount of cash in small bills. Check the weather forecast and oordinate your attire around it. Wear comfortable shoes and layered clothing, especially if the weather forecast is uncertain. Also carry a   transparent shopping bag—it prevents anyone from accusing you of stealing—and a fanny pack. The lesser amount of gear and clothing accessories you have to deal with, the easier it will be to shop.

Most sales start between 8 and 9 A.M., although some begin as early as 7 A.M. Although the early bird catches the best bargains, don’t show up at a sale way before the start time and pester the seller. An old trick is to tell the seller a story about your sick aunt and how you have to get home to take care of her or some such fiction. This or similar ploys are usually used by pickers who want to get the “pick” of the goods. Another trick is when they show up early as the seller is setting up and distract the seller by constant questions, hoping that the seller will give in and sell them something—anything to get rid of them. The larger the sale and more important the sale's items, the larger the number of buyers and the earlier the attendees will arrive.

As soon as you arrive at a sale, take a quick overview of it and decide where you want to head. Don't be timid as far as asking where particular items are located if you can't find them. The sooner you get to the items you want, the quicker you can claim them.

Generally, all sales are final. Therefore, always inspect your goods carefully before you purchase. Concentrate on items in good, complete and working condition. If the article is electrical, ask to plug it in at an available outlet so you know it works. Battery- operated items lacking batteries can be tested by those that you have brought along.

Shoppers like bargains and often want to barter. Sometimes, this works, especially at garage sales. If you think an item is too expensive, it doesn’t hurt to propose a lower price or ask what the seller’s best price might be.

Another option in finding bargains is to return on the second day of the sale, if it’s a two-day affair. Usually sellers will reduce the prices so that they can get rid of their items. Of course, you risk the possibility your treasure may have already been bought by someone else. Leaving a reasonable offer with your name and phone number is another way if you feel the object's price is beyond your means. It gives the seller an alternative if the piece hasn’t sold by the end of the sale.

When buying furniture, appliances and/or other bulky items, try to arrange for a timely, later pickup convenient with the seller. Always retain a receipt that identifies you as the new owner and present this information on your return. If you can fit in some of the piece's components, take them the day of the sale, as this will ultimately lighten your final load and prevent the seller from selling your purchase to someone else—believe it or not, this happens. And when you go to pick up your purchase, don’t’ rely on tools or manpower on the part of the seller. It’s up to you to provide both the proper gear and muscle called for.

In the end, chances are when you unpack the treasures from your day's hunt, you’ll discover you not only saved some money, but you also made some outstanding purchases. After all, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

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 western antiques in the special 2019 Winter Edition, "The Old West," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.