In the last part of the 19th century, inventors turned to making life easier for the housewife.
Apple peelers, food choppers, meat grinders, eggbeaters, mayonnaise makers and other kitchen gadgets were patented. Many of the inventions were possible because of new methods of working and molding metal.
Some of the tools seem strange today. Few housewives need an apple peeler now; they use a simple knife. Frozen food, instant mashed potatoes and store-bought ground beef made other 19th-century inventions unnecessary.
One unusual tool is the potato parer or peeler. It could be used for all sorts of root vegetables, like carrots, turnips or beets.
Some peelers look like small lathes. The potato turns while a knife cuts off the skin in a long spiral. Some of the tools peel and slice the potato, creating the curls sometimes used for curly fries today.
Collectors must look carefully to be sure the tool is for potatoes, not apples.
Q. I inherited a beautiful ceramic cup and saucer from my mother. They are shaped and painted to look like a water lily, with the saucer as the leafy lily pad. The cup has a green handle shaped like a stem. The outside of the cup is painted with pink petals, and the inside is gold.
I'm told the set once belonged to a duchess who was the daughter of the last German emperor, Wilhelm II. The duchess, Viktoria Luise, gave the cup and saucer to one of her ladies-in-waiting, who gave it to my mother when she was 12. The bottom of the saucer is stamped "Carl Knoll Carlsbad." How special is this cup and saucer, and does its history add to its value?
A. You have a wonderful story to tell. The Karlsbad Porcelain Factory, founded by Carl Knoll, worked from 1848 to 1945 in Fischern, Bohemia (now Rybare, Czechia). The factory used the impressed mark you describe between 1848 and 1868. Viktoria Luise (1892-1980) had not yet been born, but the cup and saucer could have been in her family for close to a century before she gave it away.
Q. I just bought a Victorian silver serving piece that looks like what we now call a spaghetti server. I thought the idea of using a large spoon with "teeth" to catch the pasta and serve it was a 1980s idea.
A. For centuries, pasta has been a popular food in Europe and Asia, but it was not well-known in the United States until it was introduced by Thomas Jefferson, about 1790. Victorian silver "macaroni servers" were popular from about 1845 to 1885. Three types were made -- some shaped like forks, some like knives, but most like spoons. The notched "teeth" were on one side of the spoon. The silver was made to match sets of silver and silver-plated dinnerware, and it often had intricate raised or engraved decorations. A few makers continued to make the servers into the early 20th century, but then they were out of fashion until 20 years ago. Craftsman in the 1980s made wooden servers and simple chrome or stainless-steel versions that were meant more for the kitchen than for the formal dining table.
Q. My old glass coffeepot was manufactured by Kent Products Co. of Chicago. It's made of cranberry-colored ovenproof glass. The pot has two globe-shaped glass sections. The bottom section has a Bakelite handle. The top piece has a glass funnel extending from one end. The pot also includes a cloth filter on a spring device. I cannot find any information on this type of coffeepot. Can you help?
A. Kent Products Co. was one of several U.S. manufacturers that made vacuum coffeemakers during the 1940s. Glass was used because there were restrictions on the use of metals during the war.
The vacuum coffee brewer was probably invented in England in the 1850s. It was first manufactured in the United States in the 1920s by the Silex Co.
Kent's vacuum brewer worked this way: Water was boiled in the bottom section, either on a stove top or an electric base. Then the top section was placed, funnel-down, on the bottom section and a filter was fitted into the base of the top section at the wide end of the funnel. Coffee grounds were then measured into the top section. Steam from the boiling water in the bottom created pressure that forced the water into the top section. From there, the water bubbled through the coffee grounds. When the lower bowl cooled, a vacuum was created that pulled the coffee through the filter into the lower bowl. Your coffeepot would sell for about $100.
Q. I have a ceramic three-compartment child's feeding dish that's decorated with a clown, Humpty Dumpty and a balancing mouse. The mark on the bottom is a group of letters that spell "Thom" and "Psom." Can you help?
A. Your plate was probably made by C.C. Thompson Pottery Co. of East Liverpool, Ohio. The company worked from 1868 to 1938. One of its marks was like yours, with "Thom" over "Psom" surrounding a cross. The mark was used in the 1920s and '30s.
To remove the brown deposits found in old vinegar cruets, fill the cruets with diluted ammonia for a few hours, then rinse.
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