Sunday, December 2, 2001
Few of us have a butler today, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, every well-to-do family had a large house, several maids, a cook and a butler.
Furniture and serving pieces used primarily by the butler were often identified by name.
The "butler's cabinet" was a chest of drawers with a top that rolled back to reveal stored utensils. It was a form used from about 1780 to the 1830s.
The "butler's sideboard" was a small sideboard that had a center drawer fitted as a desk, so the butler had an office in the dining room when the family was not at dinner.
Another piece, the "butler's desk," looked like a chest of drawers, but the top drawer was really a fall-front writing surface. It was kept in the butler's pantry, near the dishes and silverware, or in the dining room.
The "butler's serving board" was a chest of drawers with small cupboards on the end that were used to store table linens and serving pieces. It, too, was popular from 1780 to the 1830s.
Confusion: But the word butler can cause confusion.
Gamaliel Butler made Butler furniture in Maryland in the 1780s, and Potter Butler made earthenware in New Jersey from 1810 to 1880.
General (The Beast) Butler and his army were known for stealing silver from Southern homes during the Civil War.
So Butler pottery, Butler furniture and Butler silver were not used by a house butler.
Q. My antique walnut desk has a lift top. There's a sink and faucet under the top. The countertop is marble. A container for water is stored inside the rear of the desk. There's a metal plate on the back of the desk that reads "The Washington, Wirts & amp; Scholle Manufacturers, Chicago." I have learned that the patent date for the faucet and basin design was Sept. 18, 1883. Can you give me any information about my "sink?"
A. Wirts & amp; Scholle was founded in Chicago about 1880 by Jacob C. Wirts and Henry E. Scholle. Both men were originally from Ohio. Wirts & amp; Scholle was primarily a furniture dealer. The firm manufactured some upholstered furniture and folding beds. Your "sink" was probably marketed in the 1880s as a man's dressing table and washstand. Combination washstands like yours, with a patented mechanism to pump water to the sink, were often given names such as "The Washington" or "The Windsor." They were popular pieces in a Victorian bedroom set.
Q. My grandmother left me one of her handmade quilts. She always called it a "kit quilt." I never asked her what that meant. Do you know?
A. A kit quilt is, literally, a quilt made from a kit. The kits were popular during the 1920s and '30s. Quilts made from these kits usually have plain backgrounds and floral patterns. Kits were sold in stores or could be ordered by mail from magazine ads. Most kits came with precut pieces of fabric printed with blue lines where the quilter was supposed to stitch the pieces together.
Q. I have a vase marked "Cookson" and have been unable to learn who made it.
A. Cookson Pottery Co. worked in Roseville, Ohio, from 1945 to 1995. Gerald Cookson founded the pottery. When he died in 1966, his son Ronald took over. The company was sold in 1982, but it continued working for another 13 years. Cookson Pottery Co. made vases, planters and other garden ware.
Q. I always thought that coral jewelry had dark-pink stones. My sister tells me coral comes in other colors. True?
A. It is true. Classic Mediterranean gem corals come in a range of pinks, from light salmon to deep red. Gem coral from the Pacific is also found in white, gold, blue and black. Coral is made of the skeletons of tiny sea creatures that form large reefs. Fine-quality red coral is the most expensive of the pinks. Blue and gold corals are rare, so they're also valuable. Coral can be damaged by perspiration and body acids, so gem coral is usually set in closed settings that protect the stone.
Q. Are old cookbooks collectible? I have a bunch that my mother left me, and I don't do much cooking.
A. A few years ago, a 15th-century cookbook sold for $17,000 at an auction in England. Your mother's cookbooks might not be 500 years old, but even cookbooks from the 1950s and '60s are collectible. The first "Pillsbury Bake-Off Booklet," published in 1950, now sells for about $75. Many collectors like old cookbooks not only for the recipes, but also for what they tell us about life in the past.
Q. I have a round 4-inch tray with a color lithograph on the front. It pictures a building surrounded by the words "Louisiana Purchase Exposition 1904, Souvenir made at American Can Co. Exhibit." The rim of the plate is black with a gold-colored scroll. Can you tell me anything about this tray?
A. You have a souvenir from the St. Louis World's Fair, held from April 30 to Dec. 1, 1904. The fair celebrated the 100 years that had passed since the Louisiana Purchase was completed in 1803. The American Can Co. made several different lithographed metal souvenirs at the fairgrounds as part of its exhibit. Your tray would sell for about $75.
Tip: Store Barbie dolls without their metal earrings. Eventually the metal will discolor the ears.
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