Health clubs and workout machines are common today in the United States, but in past centuries, hard physical work was all that was needed to stay in shape.
Although group exercises like Indian club or dumbbell drills were popular, machines were unknown.
The Battle Creek Sanitarium was built in the 1860s, but it didn’t attract many guests until 1876, when John Harvey Kellogg was hired to run the medical department.
His vegetarian beliefs led to the famous Kellogg’s cereals. In the mid-1920s, some motor-powered exercise machines were introduced.
The Battle Creek Health Builder was an oscillating machine made to stimulate the body.
It was claimed that it was just as good as the exercise you would get from strenuous sports, like swimming or tennis.
To be healthy you no longer had to use your own muscles for power; motors furnished the power to stretch and tone the body.
The idea of a motor to assist with exercise remains today in treadmills and other equipment.
A mechanical horse from the ’20s sold in January for $775 at a Garth’s auction in Delaware, Ohio.
The “horse” had a leather saddle seat and metal bars that made it jiggle.
It was used to promote health at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in the 1930s.
Q. I just saw an auction-catalog listing for an “art deco Naugahyde lounge chair, c. 1930.” I thought Naugahyde was newer than that.
A. Naugahyde is a form of “pleather,” an imitation leather made with plastic. Although U.S. Rubber experimented with rubber-based artificial leather as early as 1914, the product we call Naugahyde was not marketed until about 1953. It was made with PVC, a form of plastic. The manufacturer, by then named Uniroyal Technology, sold Naugahyde to the auto industry for upholstery. It was soon in use for office and industrial seating units and for some residential furniture. If you try to look up the history of Naugahyde, you will probably find the story of the “nauga,” a strange fictional animal whose skin is supposedly used to make Naugahyde. The story, an advertising promotion of the 1960s and ‘70s, led to a make-believe world of nauga ranches, stuffed toy naugas and stories of the adventures of the naugas. Many still think Naugahyde is a natural product, but it’s manmade. If you find a 1930s chair covered in Naugahyde, it has been reupholstered. The chair’s value would be low, but stuffed toy naugas are worth $100 to $150 today.
Q. I found a large ring in a box of stuff that I bought at an estate sale. It reads “J.G. Tarver, Texas Giant” on the face of the ring. Who was J.G. Tarver? Does the ring have any value?
A. James Grover Tarver was one of the “giants” who appeared in circus sideshows in the early 20th century. He was born in Texas in 1885 and grew to be 8 feet 4 inches tall. He traveled with Ringling Brothers and other circuses from 1909 until 1935 and was billed as “The World’s Tallest Man,” “The Texas Giant,” “Texas Jim” or “What-a-Man Tarver.” Tarver also played the role of the giant in the 1917 movie “Jack and the Beanstalk.” After his career in the circus, he retired to his farm in Arkansas, where he died in 1958. Giant rings like yours were sold as souvenirs at circuses and sideshows from c. 1905 until the late 1960s. Most of the rings were made of lead or pot metal and were 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 inches in diameter. Some rings were plated or painted gold or silver. Plastic rings also were made. The rings had the giant’s name on the face and scrolls or other designs on the sides. Thousands of these rings were sold. Tarver rings often are advertised on the Internet for less than $10.
Q. I was just given a colorful majolica plate that’s marked with a symbol that identifies the maker as Grazia, an Italian factory. How can I learn its age?
A. The Grazia majolica factory is the 13th-oldest family business known in the world. It started in Deruta, Italy, in the 1300s. Ubaldo Grazia, who now heads the pottery, represents the 25th generation to run the family business. The company has exported majolica to all parts of the world since the early 1900s. The mark has been used for hundreds of years and is still used today. Many of the designs are copies of earlier ones. We doubt if you can date the plate without the help of a museum expert who could study the plate in person.
Q. I have a set of six fish plates and a 141⁄2-inch platter. There is a fish in the center of each dish and each is marked with a castle turret and “Franz Ant Mehlem.” Can you tell me something about the history of these dishes?
A. You have a fish set made by the Franz Anton Mehlem Earthenware Factory. The company was in business in Bonn, Germany, from 1836 to 1920. The mark on your dishes was used from about 1896 to 1920.
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