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.