Tuesday, May 28, 2019

School Days, School Days, Happy Golden Rule Days

QUESTION: Not long ago, I began collecting little school awards cards. I also collect postcards and found several of these at a postcard show. Each seems to have been personalized for a particular student and covered a variety of topics. What can you tell me about these cards? Are they worth collecting? And how old might they be?

ANSWER: It’s that time of year when schools let out for summer vacation. It’s also the time when students receive awards for a variety of achievements. Today, only a select few receive awards, but in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, many students received them in the form of Reward of Merit cards.

As early as 1780, Robert Raikes , editor of the Gloucester Journal, opened his first Sunday school in Massachusetts. He began a reward of merit system to maintain discipline, appropriate behavior and good and punctual attendance.

Eighteenth-century hand drawn, colored and hand painted Reward of Merit cards from this early period are considered American folk art by many collectors. Earlier cards had religious subject matter, with poetry, sermons and verses from the Bible. Beginning in the early to mid-19th century, Rewards of Merit became less religious and pious in nature, gearing themselves more toward children's topics, games, child scenes, and patriotic flags and eagles, especially those printed at the time of the American Civil War.

The very earliest examples were simple hand-written notes of praise. Early printed cards were printed on thin pieces of paper with black ink. Most had had a fancy border and the words “Reward of Merit” printed on them. Some printers added illustrations copied from children's chapbooks or newspapers. Pictures often depicted patriotic and seasonal symbols, trains, ships, people and animals.

The top of the card usually read "Reward of Merit," with the well behaved students name written below, followed by the signature of the teacher who issued the reward. Teachers presented these Reward of Merit cards not only for academic achievement but also for punctuality, attendance, proper and good right conduct, and overall signs of improvement in early 19th century one-room schools. Victorian mothers often pasted these cards into scrapbooks to show a their child's achievement and performance at school.

In the 1850s, teachers began to add color to their merit cards by hand-tinting them. Some printers used the chromolithographic process popular in the greeting card industry. Side inscriptions might have included a full-length poem or a saying.

Rewards of Merit cards came in packs of 10 assorted cards, with four designs to the package. Prices varied depending on sizes and workmanship. Most were imported. The most expensive, 40 or 50 cents for 10, were the die-cut examples. Embossed groupings started at 8 cents a package and ran up to 30 cents.

Those teachers who didn’t want to select their own cards could use an optional selection service. The young ladies who did this had good taste and sent the best and prettiest they could for the money sent.

What were these rewards given for? Many came printed with their topic—Neatness in Writing, Correctness in Recitation, Diligence and Good Behavior, Correct.'Deportment, Never Absent-Never Irate. Others had lines for the teacher to fill in. It’s obvious when reading them that teachers often used Rewards of Merit as tokens of affection with inscriptions such as “A Fine Boy or Girl.”

Teachers never looked upon Reward of Merit cards as educational aids. They were gifts in return for something worth recognizing. Although some could be inscribed with such words as "best" in math or English or Latin, they were never part of the grading system. They were the way teachers could say, “You did a good job,” and “Thank you.”

Sunday School teachers also gave reward cards that usually featured scripture. Some were the same size as the Reward of Merit Cards, but many were stickers as small as postage stamps. Their messages reflect their theme—Live Like Jesus, Blessed Be God, Be Thou Faithful, My Hope is in Thee, Maintain Good Works, The Lord is With Thee.

Publishers began printing standardized mass produced rewards for the American public later in the 19th century. The teacher might simply fill in the name of the student, write a signature, and be done. The George P. Brown and Company School Supplies Catalog of the 1890s devoted the first three pages of Day-School Reward Cards.

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 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," 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 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.