Schreckengost earthenware: Where utility meets jazzy art deco

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate
Viktor Schreckengost worked for Cowan briefly and created some of their most memorable designs. This earthenware plate shows the art deco style of the early 1930s.

Collectors know that the line between artistic and utilitarian objects is not always clearly drawn. Some of the most famous designers made examples of both. This large, glazed earthenware plate with two stylized faces in profile sold at a Rago auction for $3,120. At that price, it's more likely to go on display than on the dinner table!

The plate was designed by Viktor Schreckengost for Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio. Schreckengost worked for Cowan in 1930 until the pottery closed in 1931. He designed Cowan's famous Jazz Bowl with blue and black art deco designs that create a stylized New York cityscape.

The Jazz Bowl is an art piece, but Schreckengost created plenty of practical and utilitarian items, too. He designed dinnerware for Limoges China Company, Salem China Company, Onondaga Pottery and others. Beyond ceramics, he designed chairs, vehicles, toy pedal cars, oscillating fans, radar for pilots and more.

One story about how he designed a metal chair for the Murray Ohio Manufacturing Co. shows his ingenuity. He turned a barrel upside down, covered the top (formerly the base) with soft clay and put plastic over it. He took his creation to the company's cafeteria and offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who would sit on it. After more than 400 sitters, the clay was pressed into the shape of the average seat. Schreckengost used it to make a mold for his chair seat.

Question: I'd like information about this old Seth Thomas mantel clock. It has a partial label on the back that says "Seth Thomas, Plymouth Hollow, Conn." Can you tell me how old the clock is and what size weights it needs?

Answer: Seth Thomas (1785-1859) began making clocks in Wolcott, Conn., in the early 1800s. He worked with Eli Terry and Silas Hoadley beginning in 1808. Thomas started his own business in Plymouth Hollow in 1813. Seth Thomas Clock Company was incorporated in 1853. The area of town where Thomas's factory was located was renamed Thomaston in 1875. The location listed on the label, "Plymouth Hollow, Conn.," indicates the clock was made between 1813 and 1875. If you can read the name of the printer of the label on the clock, you should be able to find a more exact date. Take the clock to a professional clock maker, someone with experience in antique clocks, to find out what size weights it needs.

Q: I have a Gibson icebox, and I'm looking for the brass plaque that is screwed on the icebox. Any idea where to find one? I have exhausted the internet looking for one.

A: You can find places that sell replacement hardware for antique and vintage items online, but you probably won't be able to find a brass plaque with the Gibson name on it unless it is on an old icebox that's being sold for parts. You might be able to have a reproduction brass plaque made by one of the craftsmen on Etsy or similar websites.

Q: I have a graniteware hanging shelf with three large holes fitted with metal pots. They're painted with blue flowers and leaves. The pots are labeled "Soda," "Sand" and "Seife." Can you tell me what this was used for?

A: The pots on this shelf held cleaning products commonly used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It probably hung in the kitchen or laundry room. The word "seife" is German for "soap," so this shelf was probably made in Germany. Soap was a luxury used mostly by the wealthy until the mid-1800s. Soda was used to clean glass and metal. Sand was used to scrub floors and pots. Soda and sand mixed together were used to clean wood. Sand was often spread on the hearth or floors to protect them from stray sparks from the fireplace and to absorb dirt and grease. The sand was swept out at the end of the week and replaced with new sand.

Q: I have my late grandfather's old trumpet. It's engraved "Emperor, Made by Boosey & Hawkes, London, Made in England." Where can I get someone to tell me what it is worth?

A: Boosey & Hawkes started in 1930 when Boosey & Company and Hawkes & Son merged. Both companies made musical instruments and were music publishers. Boosey & Hawkes made musical instruments until 2003, when it sold that part of its business to The Music Group. The company still publishes music. The value of the trumpet depends on the desirability of the instrument, the type of metal, tone quality and condition. Take the trumpet to a music store that sells used musical instruments to see if they can give you a value. If you intend to sell the trumpet, it's a good idea to take it to more than one music store to get the value. Remember, they will offer you less than what they can sell it for since they need to make a profit.

TIP: Old clocks should be oiled every four to six years and cleaned every six to eight months.