Sunday, March 29, 2009

Commode or toilet?

Having taught English for nearly 40 years now, I have been surrounded by language and its quirks…and there are many! One of those quirky words relates to a piece of furniture I have in the shop…basically today labeled as a nightstand its origins are as a "commode."

What started me off on this post was the $37,000 commode that the Merrill Lynch executive had in his newly decorated office before the you-know-what hit the fan. Now, when we think commode, we usually process it as toilet…a word that usually turns into a euphemism in America…restroom…bathroom…

But, research shows that what is currently Pakistan was symbolic in the third millennium B.C. during the "Age of Cleanliness." This area had the most advanced toilets and sewers, and Mohenjo-Daro circa 2800 B.C. had some of the most advanced, with lavatories built into the outer walls of houses. These were "Western-style" toilets made from bricks with wooden seats on top. They had vertical chutes, through which waste fell into street drains or cesspits. (As a side note, Mohenjo-Daro translates to Mound of the Dead…I am sure everyone can remember a bathroom where that would be an appropriate moniker!)

Of course, historically the Romans are well known for their baths…does not look too bad once you get over the communal feel!
But, if you have to go, you have to go!

A night commode is a Victorian term for a bedside cabinet closed by one or paired doors, which offered an enclosed area below for storing a chamberpot that collected night soil and served as a washstand with a washbasin and water pitcher for personal cleansing after using the chamberpot. But, my Victorian commode is not close to that $37,000 mark up...not enough idle bankers coming through my shop, I fear.

A chamberpot enclosed in a cabinet of sitting height was called a close-stool; such convenience cabinets or commodes often furnished middle-class bedrooms before the days of indoor plumbing. If the cabinets were low enough, you would put the pot on top and have a seat! In the twentieth century commode continued to be expanded to signify toilet, and I am sure there are some folks left who still say commode and not toilet.

You have seen the ironstone chamber pots in stores and flea markets. They all originally had lids...good thing...but, usually what remains is the pot itself. Still these work so well for extra TP storage or a plant or small towels or other guest toiletry, and they are reasonably priced. What is key about an antique is that it grounds any decorating style. You do not have to be totally old...just a touch here and there keeps you connected to the past.

But, the next time you see a little nightstand for sale, you are going to have to think...hmmm...would it have held the chamber pot, the pitcher and bowl?

And a final thought...these folks had these elaborate pitcher and bowls sets that we display anywhere...they would have tucked them in the cabinet...which gives credence to why so many were broken, chipped, and dinged! They just did not realize that we would want everything mint even though it is over a hundred years old!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Akro Agate...or did you lose your marbles?

Akro Agate traces its roots to a shoe store! Gilbert Marsh wanted marbles to sell in his shoe store...all retailers will understand the concept of the little extras at the check out...anyway, he contacted a George Rankin who helped him build marble making machinery which they installed over the shoe store in Akron, Ohio. In an interview in the early 1900s, Marsh said that they "packed marbles until one or two o'clock in the morning. We sold 25 "Glassies" for fifty cents a package in graduated sizes. Later our marble business done so well we moved into a machine shop on East Exchange Street. On March 23, 1911, we applied for the "Akro Agate" trademark and in August of the same year it was registered Their emblem is a crow...(a crow..akrow...say it with me now!)...and it stood for marbles that would "shoot straight as a crow flies."
In late 1914 the company moved to Clarksburg, WV. It had natural gas and sand, both crucial to glass making. They faced a couple lawsuits from competitors...see...nothing has changed...and decided to expand their market in the 1930s. Ashtrays were the first to come off the line, and then small containers for cold creams were next. The jar on the far right is a cold cream is kind of unique though! The lid is missing-it was a sombrero shaped top- and the company who sold the product was the Pickwick Cosmetic Corp. I believe they were in Tennessee.
In 1936, when the Westite Glass plant in Weston, WV, was destroyed by fire, "Akro" acquired all the molds, which included flower pots, planters,and vases from the Garden Line products Westite produced.
Towards the end of the 1930's "Akro" tried the Children's Dishes, but at that time with little success. When cheap Japanese imports were cut off during WWII, the Children's Dishes became a great success, and they were successful.
They do have a variety of slag glass colors in their items...this vase is in chocolate, lavenders, and green...just pretty swirls for nice accent pieces.

After the war, cheap plastics and metal toy dishes became cheaper to produce than glass and their toy production fell off, and sales of the other products fell from favor...who wants glass flower pots when plastic ones are available and will not break! So, their sales plunged dramatically. By 1949 they decided to close and stop production. They continued to sell remaining stock, but on April 24, 1951, Akro had a final auction sale and sold everything. Another American company gone...but as long as their products exist in the vintage market...not forgotten.

So, the next time you see a jar of marbles...maybe those milky aggies were from the bags sold over that shoe store in Akron, Ohio!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ides of March...for real!!

Shakespeare fans will recognize today as The Ides of March, the infamous assassination date of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. In Roman times the term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other eight months, but in March it was a festive day dedicated to Mars and a military parade was held--so you see how Julius was lured to his death.

Of course, in view of today's economy, lots of bewares are being tossed about. But..more than that it represents having a best friend stab you in the back also..."Et tu, Brutus"...although the words best friend and stab do not seem to jive,I am sure many of us have met some Bruti in our lives, but that aside, what the saying brought me to was all those tidbits that are part of our culture and what they represent. And, so...for today's lesson...we bring you the stitched sayings that hung and still do hang in houses throughout the country and the world.

Ancient Peruvians and Egyptians created samplers, but the first known dated English sampler was made by Jane Bostocke in 1598 to celebrate the birth of her daughter (or possibly niece) Alice Lee. It hangs in the Victoria and Albert museum. This sampler is covered with random motifs in a variety of stitches and shades, and includes metal threads, pearls and beads, and it does not have the letters J, U, and Z which research said was common (I could not find out what they had against JUZ)

During Victorian times, samplers became more pictorial and were created by young girls in finishing schools. As the designs became more elaborate, the number of different stitches used was reduced, until generally only one stitch remained in use, thus ending up with the cross stitch samplers so well known today.

I love the old cross-stitched pieces from the depression we have noted before...bad economies foster creativities. But these cross stitched pieces touted mottos that lightened hearts and reminded readers of what was really important. This one is dated...a real treasure when the woman dated the work...not often found that way because they were not thinking of its being anything more than a charming craft that occupied their evenings.

Many of the samplers were from kits..sometimes you can see the stamped design...
Vogue Art Needlecrafts can be dated to around 1930, and they marketed through the 1950s. The earliest Vogart catalog in my collection is dated 1935 and the latest is 1957. Vogart/Vogue Needlecraft designed for Kresge's (JBK markings); Woolworth's (Jerglo); Kress & Co., Montgomery Ward's and G.C. Murphy Co. I am sure there are those out there who havae never heard of any of those stores...wonder if Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and Home Goods will fade out? are some examples currently in the shop...and consider the pleasantries that were stitched on the linen...takes the sting out of the Ides of March...and the "Bruti" of the world!

And, with that final sampler...happiness is catching...I must thank a cyber friend...Patricia Rose at
for bestowing upon moi` the following award... "This award is accompanied by the following words:
"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated."

And so I come here every Sunday to give you a little insight into my shop...and the treasures that I have within...and always some history because I believe education is key to understanding not only the past but also the do live by the side of the road and be a friend to man...and woman...and child...and every creature great and small.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Eggs"actly what I am talking about!

Well, 10 inches of snow later which melted away with my "lost" hour of sleep, I continue with this Spring spree...obviously, after the Easter bunny, the next well-known symbol is the egg...the incredible edible egg unless it is Victorian milk glass!
But the egg is not new to spring or Easter rituals. From the Romans and Gauls to Egyptians and Persians and even the Chinese, they all saw the egg as a symbol of the universe. Eggs were dyed and exchanged as well as revered.

It was buried under the foundations of buildings to ward off evil...think this might be something for the current real estate crisis? Pregnant young Roman women carried an egg to foretell the sex of their unborn children...not sure how that worked...hard boiled? Male? soft boiled? Female? Yes, sexism is alive and well. French brides stepped upon an egg before crossing the threshold of their new homes.

Coloring eggs is related to Christianity. Mary brought eggs to the soldiers at the cross hoping they would be less brutal to Jesus, and her tears caused dots of color on them, and Mary Magdalen brought eggs to eat when she came to anoint the body of Jesus. When she uncovered the basket, they were rainbow colored.

Now the most famous of the decorated eggs are those made by the well-known goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge. In 1883 the Russian Czar, Alexander, commissioned Faberge to make a special Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Marie.
The first Faberge egg was an egg within an egg. It had an outside shell of platinum and enameled white which opened to reveal a smaller gold egg. The smaller egg, in turn, opened to display a golden chicken and a jeweled replica of the Imperial crown.

This special Faberge egg so delighted the Czarina that the Czar promptly ordered the Faberge firm to design further eggs to be delivered every Easter. In later years Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the custom. Fifty-seven eggs were made in all.

Needless to say, my antique shop will never see the likes of a Faberge egg, but the eggs I am featuring today are the blown milk glass eggs. During the Victorian era, Easter and Christmas cards accompanied by a keepsake came into style. This practice evidently caught on because glass companies, through the end of the 19th century, made a large variety of Easter novelties, especially in milk glass with many of the pieces being the hollow blown glass egg.

This egg was decorated with cut-outs...the modern scrapbooking craze is pure Victorian! On some of the eggs the paint has faded over the years, but they are still appealing in their simplicity. I have had eggs where the previous owners dated them, but I have none in the shop at the moment.

The significance of `rolling' eggs on Easter Sunday remains the same everywhere. It perhaps recalls the descent of the "Angel of the Lord' from heaven who rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb of Christ. The Romans celebrated the Easter season by running races on an oval track and the prize - eggs.

The first egg rolls, largely family affairs, seem to have been held during the administration of President Andrew Johnson. Youngsters of the President's family dyed eggs on Sunday for the Monday rolling, which the First Lady would watch from the South Portico. The tradition carries on until this day despite early attempts by Congress in the 1800s to keep the White House lawn from being turned into a playground because of budget restraints on replacing the lawn! Things just never seem to change, do they...but, all in all, I dub thee all good eggs for reading my latest lesson!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Can You "Hare" Me Now?

As mad as a March hare…well, believe me, with a March 1 snowstorm, I am right there!

But, even before that, I was setting up Easter is the shop…and thinking how wonderful the old rabbit containers are, and I decided to open March blogs with them.

Supposedly, hares get a little out on control in March with their mating antics…kind of Bunny Sex in the Country although it is hard to picture Peter Rabbit as Mr. Big, but as far back as 1529, Sir Thomas More's The supplycacyon of soulys originated this phrase:
"As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge."
The phrase has been in continuous use in the language since the 16th century. It was well-enough established by 1546 for John Heywood to include it in his collection - A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue.
But, I think most of us relate it to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland…the conversation at the Tea Party between the March Hare and Alice is priceless…and I am sure many of us in our lifetimes have participated in those conversations…he would have made a good politician!

Anyway, the rabbits in the shop are old paper mache.
Even though new paper mache is out there, I still love the feel of the old pieces with their worn spots and the aura of age. This guy looks like the chocolate got the better of him!
In fact, in today’s economy, it is cheaper to buy the old originals than the new reproductions!
The Easter Bunny as an Easter symbol is mentioned in German writings in the 1600s. The first edible Easter Bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s and were made of pastry and sugar, but it appears the Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the bunny to our culture in the 1700s. Children would leave their hats and bonnets on the doorsteps so the bunnies would leave brightly colored eggs in the nests if they had been good.

The “egg carton” candy containers came from Germany in the early 1900s. This rabbit has glass eyes and is from one of the early manufacturers.

Other bunny collectibles are fun this book...

Here is a Lefton China...Japan...probably 1950s-60s vintage...sweet cherub with bunnies and a little birdie...

And, of course, modern Italian pottery always has a neat decorative is a mold available for a touch of interest...

So...are you "hoppy" now???