Unfamiliar objects may be a mystery without research

Collectors often find objects from the past that are unfamiliar today.
Without the proper name to use for research, an asparagus server, a niddy noddy (wool winder) or a confidante (chair) can be a mystery.
The confidante is a clover-shaped triple chair that was used in the center of a parlor or a hotel lobby.
Three people could sit in the chair and lean toward the center to talk.
Each would be facing in a different direction.
This strangely shaped settee has had different names throughout the centuries.
It was known as a "confidante" in the 1750s, when it first appeared.
The English called it a "roundabout conversation chair."
In the 20th century, it was a form of a "t & ecirc;te- & agrave;-t & ecirc;te."
It is an interesting type of furniture, popular in the Victorian era but not made today.
Q. I have an old stoneware butter churn that was my grandmother's.
I'd like to give it to my granddaughter, along with information about it.
The dark-blue decoration on the churn is an elaborate floral spray.
The marks on the churn are the number 2 and the words "New York Stoneware Co., Port Edward, N.Y."
A. The 2 on your churn indicates that it can hold 2 gallons of cream for churning.
That was the smallest churn commonly made; the largest held 12 gallons.
The New York Stoneware Co., which also worked under the name Satterlee and Morey, was in business in Fort Edward, N.Y., from 1861 until 1885.
Stoneware is pottery fired in a kiln until it is very hard and waterproof.
Households used it to store, pickle and preserve food.
American 19th-century stoneware is popular among today's collectors.
Prices are in the hundreds or more for pieces in excellent condition.
An unusual blue decoration adds to the value.
Q. I found an old bottle at an abandoned military post in the western Dakotas.
I know that the area was used by the U.S. Army from about 1830 to 1880.
The bottle is light aqua and has a rounded bottom and a heavy, applied mouth.
Embossed on the bottle lengthwise are the words "Genuine Belfast Ginger Ale."
Is this bottle as old as I hope?
A. The shape and mouth style of your bottle date it to the 1880s. The heavy mouth is called a blob top, and the rounded bottom was a shape often used by British bottlers.
These bottles could be corked, then crated horizontally between sheets of metal or wood so they could be shipped safely.
Because the first recipe for ginger ale was created in Ireland in the 1850s, many bottlers used "Belfast ginger ale" as a generic term for the drink.
However, this type of bottle in clear or aqua glass is not rare. It sells for $8 to $10.
Q. My aunt left me six glazed earthenware dessert plates.
They're all 8 inches in diameter, but the sculpted edges of the plates vary slightly, and so do the hand-painted roses and leaves.
The mark on the bottom is impressed under the glaze.
It's a backward F superimposed on the letter M, surrounded by a circle formed with words I can't make out.
My aunt was born in Germany, but came here with her family when she was a child.
A. Your plates were manufactured at the Franz Anton Mehlem factory in Bonn, Germany.
The words that form the circle are "Franz Ant. Mehlem, Bonn, YRhein [for Rhineland]."
The factory, founded in 1836, was bought by Villeroy and Boch of Mettlach, Germany, in 1921. It closed in 1931.
The mark on your plates was used from about 1887 until 1920.
The Mehlem factory is better known by the trade name "Royal Bonn," which it often included in marks starting in 1890.
Your aunt's parents probably brought the plates to this country from Germany.
If they had been made for export to the United States after 1891, they would have also been marked "Germany" or "Made in Germany."
Q. I have a George Washington button that's 3 inches in diameter.
It looks like brass and is a half-inch thick.
The bottom is plain with a hole in the center.
The front is embossed with the initials "GW" inside an oval.
The edge of the front is raised and smooth, with two smaller raised circles toward the center.
Around the edge of the top of the innermost circle is the embossed phrase, "Long Live the President."
A. Several different styles of buttons were made in 1789 to celebrate George Washington's inauguration. They were manufactured by New York and Connecticut button makers and sold to the public. Some of the buttons might even have been worn by people who attended Washington's first inauguration. One of the known styles -- there are several -- matches the central area of your button. It was made of copper and is quite thin. It is possible that someone made a brass holder to protect your button. However, an expert would have to examine your button in person to determine if it is original or one of the many reproductions that have been made since the late 1800s.
Don't use bleaching cleansing powders or disinfectant floor-washing products that contain chlorine in a room that has bronze figures on display.
Chlorine harms bronzes.
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& copy; 2005 Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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