18th-century Americans stored sewing supplies in small tables
Sewing was as important as cooking in centuries past. The most valuable things in an 18th-century American home were linens, bedcovers and drapes. The wealthy could import fabrics from Europe. The average family made their own fabric. They raised sheep or plants, sheared the sheep or harvested the plants, and went through many steps to make thread, color it and weave it into cloth. Then the cloth had to be cut and sewn into clothing or household items. So it is not surprising that the sewing supplies in a well-to-do home were stored in a special sewing worktable in the main room. The women of the household could take out the fabric and sew whenever there was time. It often was a winter job done while sitting near a fireplace. Most sewing stands looked like small tables and stood about 28 inches high, the height of a desk. There was a drawer to hold sewing tools, needles, thread, scissors and measuring tape. Many were made with a large fabric bag hanging below the drawer, accessible when the top of the table was lifted. It is a form not seen in the average 20th-century home, so when the bag is missing from a table, collectors may not realize they’re looking at a sewing table with a missing part. An October 2013 Skinner auction offered an early 19th-century sewing table missing its original bag. The maple and mahogany worktable with an attractive patterned top sold for $3,900.
Q I have a 14-piece set of kitchen canisters that are the color of mother-of-pearl. They’re decorated with gold trim and red roses. There are six large canisters labeled Coffee, Rice, Oatmeal, Flour, Sugar and Tea; six smaller canisters for spices labeled Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Allspice and Pepper; and two cruets labeled Oil and Vinegar. The marks on the bottom are “Ditmar Urbach” above a star, the letter “Z,” an image of a wing and “Made in Czechoslovakia.” When were they made and how much are they worth?
A The mother-of-pearl glaze on your set was popular in the 1920s. Sets like yours sell for about $200 to $400. The pottery where your set was made was founded in 1882 as Brothers Urbach in Turn-Teplitz, Bohemia, Austria (now Trnovany, Czech Republic). In 1919, it merged with Ditmar and became Ditmar-Urbach. It was taken over by the Nazis in 1938 and became Ostmark-Ceramics AG.
Q My mother bought a beautiful American Character doll for my 9th birthday in 1932. The doll’s eyes open and close and her mouth is open in a smile that shows her teeth. She can’t say “Mama” anymore, but other than that she is in fine shape. Can you tell me her present value?
A The American Character Doll Co. was founded in New York City in 1919. The company made baby dolls, toddler dolls, mama dolls and other dolls in several sizes. The dolls were made of composition, rubber or hard plastic. American Character dolls were high-end dolls with well-made clothes. Although they sold for only a few dollars in the 1920s and ‘30s, they were expensive at the time. The company’s best years were in the 1950s and early ‘60s when its Betsy McCall and Tiny Tears dolls were so popular. American Character Doll Co. went out of business in 1968 and its molds were sold to Ideal. It’s impossible to suggest a value for your doll without knowing exactly which American Character doll you have. But the loss of its voice lowers the value. American Character dolls sell for prices from under $100 to a high of a few hundred dollars.
Q What is a “Mickey Mouse” telephone insulator? I keep getting that reference when I check online for Mickey Mouse collectibles.
A Most telephone insulators, the glass pieces at the top of telephone poles that hold the wires, have rounded tops. A few varieties have protruding pieces that make the insulator look like a silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head. The protruding pieces look like large ears. Because the name and shape are unusual, these insulators are popular with collectors.
Q I have a heavy brass letter opener marked “Harlow, Breed & Cooley Wool, 184 Summer St., Boston.” Does it have any value?
A Harlow, Breed & Cooley were wool dealers in Boston from about 1912 until about 1926. Advertising letter openers made of brass sell for under $20 to over $100, depending on the design.
Tip: Put ceramic saucers or glass or plastic plant holders under vases of flowers or potted plants to protect your furniture. You can buy inexpensive throwaway plastic dishes that have a rim and are exactly the right size and shape for a planter.
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