Jokes spread quickly today via the Internet or television, and satire can be found in comic strips, TV shows and e-mails.
Our great-grandparents enjoyed humor just as much, but it had to be passed around by figurines, prints, dishes and even rag rugs or textiles.
Sometimes the original meaning has been lost because it was based on a local incident or a political joke.
One famous Staffordshire group shows a parson, a woman with a child and a man holding a baby pig. The group is surrounded by baskets of eggs, corn and other produce. At first it appears to be a family scene. But the title, “The Tithe Pig,” gives a hint. The parson is waiting to get 10 percent, the tithe from the family for his church.
The angry wife is handing him her 10th child. It is satiric – a protest against the church’s taking so much money from a family.
This figure, along with several other Staffordshire groups, including “The Vicar and Moses,” which shows a very drunk Vicar being helped home by his clerk Moses, shows the tension between peasants and clergy.
The feelings were so strong that the figurines often were displayed as mantel ornaments.
Staffordshire potters made not only “jokes,” but also portraits of prize fighters, animal trainers, actors, kings, politicians and other famous people.
They recorded the celebrities of their day.
Q. I have a piece of furniture that was my grandmother’s. I have no idea what it’s called. It looks like a chest of drawers, but it pulls out to be a table that seats 12 people. It has six leaves that are stored inside the chest. There are two labels inside the door. One says, “Saginaw Furniture Shops, Inc.” and has a picture of an Indian chief. The other label says, “All exposed structural parts and plywood faces guaranteed mahogany.” I hope you can help.
A. You have an Expand-o-Matic buffet table. Saginaw Furniture Shops opened in the late 1920s. It was known for its Expand-o-Matic and Expandaway tables. Another version was shaped like a desk and called Extensol. The top fake drawer of the Expand-o-Matic pulls open and telescopes into a table with an accordion-style construction. Full extension can be up to about 84 inches. The expanding mechanism is called a Watertown Slide and was made by the Watertown Slide Corp. of Watertown, Wis. The tables were sold in the 1940s and ’50s in different shapes – chests or desks – in various finishes. Saginaw Furniture Shops is out of business. Tables from this line have sold recently for $450 to $800, depending on condition.
Q. Is it true that some Chase lamps were made from parts of toilets? I have a short lamp with a round copper base and a lampshade shaped like a short cone.
A. Yes. The Chase Copper and Brass Co. lighting division made many types of lamps. The division, active in the 1930s and ’40s, made hundreds of different lamps, ranging from classic shapes to childlike figures, ship’s wheels, globes and very modern forms. The Glow Lamp, designed by Ruth Gerth, used a copper toilet float as the round base. Other Chase pieces, including watering cans, pitchers and vases, also used the copper float. The company was able to cut costs by using parts such as floats, copper tubing used for plumbing and even parts of other lamps.
Q. I have a very old dish that has been repaired with some kind of metal wire. The two pieces of the broken bowl are held together by wire strung through holes that were drilled in the pieces. Why would anyone make such an ugly repair?
A. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many sets of dishes were sent to the Colonies and later the United States from other countries. It took a long time to get a replacement for a set, so pieces were repaired, if possible. The best repairs were made by traveling tinkers who repaired tin and other pieces for housewives. They used cleats or staples to fix porcelain because the glue available would not hold if the dish was immersed in hot water or held soup. The metal used was iron, copper, brass or silver. A few pieces were repaired with gold or steel. Your kind of repair, called “cleating,” was not used much after 1875. Today we worry about bits of the metal being swallowed or rusting, or even being poisonous (like copper mixed with tomatoes). Small edge chips that did not interfere with the use of the dish were just touched up with gold or silver trim. That was called a “Japan repair.”
Ivory mah-jongg tiles are wanted by collectors, and so are Bakelite tiles. Newer plastic tiles are not selling well.
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