Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Even if something is left undone...

everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn."
~~Elizabeth Lawrence

There is something about this time of the year in the colder climate areas that brings the feeling of country to decorating...the smell of the wood burning fires, the leaves floating around, the soft gray skies overhead...

I have noticed that some of the big companies like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware are getting into the "old school" country decorating...


So, I thought I would feature a couple old country collectibles...items that tend to fit with winter better than summer...a touch of pewter...a little copper lustre...

Antique pewter is 85-99% tin, with the remainder consisting of copper, antimony, bismuth and lead. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint. In early America, colonists only had the pewter they brought with them since there were no tin mines, but, as Americans are known to want to be "upscale," silver eventually replaced pewter. Most people think of tin cans when they hear the word tin and that makes them think "Cheap". Tin cans were in fact made from iron that was dipped in tin to prevent rusting. Today's "Tin foil" is actually made of aluminum!

Pewter gained an audience during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco period. Pewter pieces like clocks, inkwells, candlesticks for example are highly sought after. Collectors find prices starting $500 for some pieces, depending on maker's mark and condition.

Antique marked pewter is generally worth double that of unmarked antique pewter. Values for antique pewter can be confusing because there were so many different types of items made from pewter, from so many different makers and regions. Collectors understand the criteria of the pewter they collect. They may choose only plates or tankards, for example. Pewter is still being made in America, and lead is no longer part of the alloy.
Copper lustre in its varied forms of decoration was made in Staffordshire and other English potteries from about 1800 to 1860. Some of it is marked with either an impressed name or letter; much of it bears no mark. Dating to ancient Persia, lustre glazes were applied to pottery in Mesopotamia in the 9th century; the potters in England managed to duplicate the technique with Wedgwood being the company to perfect the style. The base under the glaze is a good earthenware...similar to ironstone in many cases.Very dilute amounts of powdered gold or platinum were dissolved in aqua regia and added to spirits of tar for platinum and a mixture of turpentine, flowers of sulfur and linseed oil for gold. The mixture was applied to the glazed ware and fired in an enameling kiln, depositing a thin film of platinum or gold. Platinum produced the appearance of solid silver and was employed for the middle class in shapes identical to those uses for silver tea services, ca. 1810-1840. Depending on the concentration of gold in the lustring compound and the under slip on which it was applied, a range of colours could be achieved, from pale rose and lavender, to copper and gold.

"I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadow less like silence, listening
To silence."
- Thomas Hood, Ode: Autumn, 1827

Sunday, November 21, 2010

As we express our gratitude,

we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I do want to thank everyone who stops by here to read...some of you comment...some of you email...some quietly read and move on...I do this not so much for responses but to teach; after all, that is what I do...have done...will do until the day I die.

I think Thanksgiving does get lost in the pre-Christmas shuffle. It used to be that we would take it a holiday at a time, but, in our commercially driven world, that was tossed in the discard pile. The first Black Friday was September 24, 1869--a stock market disaster (history repeats and repeats). Now, it is related to stores going into the black supposedly,and, despite statistics that show the most shopping is done the Saturday before Christmas, the Black Friday myth continues to flourish.

The history of the day after Thanksgiving being the official start of the holiday shopping season is linked with the tradional parades and Santa coming to town to take orders.In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Santa parades or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These include the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton's, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy's. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.

After the Depression, the fact that this marked the official start of the shopping season led to controversy. In 1939, retail shops wanted a longer shopping season as they recovered from the Depression, but no store wanted to break with tradition and be the one to start advertising before Thanksgiving. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date for Thanksgiving one week earlier, leading to much anger by the public who wound up having to change holiday plans (Lincoln had declared the last Thursday as the official Thanksgiving). Some even refused the change, resulting in the U.S. citizens celebrating Thanksgiving on two separate days. Some started referring to the change as "Franksgiving."

So, this Thursday, enjoy your day...shop if you must...but remember to live thankfully!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

“At the punch-bowl's brink,

let the thirsty think, what they say in Japan: first the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man!” ~Edward Rowland Sill

The entertaining season tends to bring out the infamous punch bowl. There are 2 theories about its origin. It could be a short for "puncheon" which refers to a wooden cask that holds 70 to 80 gallons.....now there we are talking about some serious punch!

The other theory is that the word punch derived from the Hindustani word "panch" which is defined as "five". This traces back to the "rule of five" that states that a punch must have at least five ingredients: sweet, sour, bitter, weak, and alcoholic.

In my research, I found a poem that Samuel Mather (son of Cotton Mather), sent in 1757 to a friend with a box of lemons:

You know from Eastern India came
The skill of making punch as did the name.
And as the name consists of letters five,
By five ingredients it is kept alive.
To purest water sugar must be joined,
With these the grateful acid is combined.
Some any sours they get contented use,
But men of taste do that from Tagus choose.
When now these three are mixed with care
Then added be of spirit a small share.
And that you may the drink quite perfect see,
Atop the musky nut must grated be.

Even if you do not make punch, these large bowls make wonderful salad bowls or decorative centerpieces filled with a variety of ornaments.

I found an ironstone punch bowl at auction the other week. I have never seen one outside of the books, so it was a neat surprise. It is showing its age...130 years or so...but a real treasure for an ironstone lover.
Many of the Victorian bowls are pressed glass. You don't always find the cups or the stands with them, but I never pass them up, and, in today's current marketplace, they are incredibly reasonably priced.
The punch bowls came with either a pedestal to elevate the bowl on the table or a large underplate where the bowl would rest in the centre. Each set came with a set of punch cups. If a pedestal was used, the cups were hung around the bowl using metal hooks. If the punch tray was used, the cups were displayed around the base of the bowl resting on the tray. So, for those who get a little punchy...not to mention paunchy around the holidays, at least you know folks have been punchy for centuries!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Eat butter first,

and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past."
Old Dutch proverb

I am sure the health conscious cringe at that proverb, but I remember the highlight of the coming holiday season was the "butter cookie," a recipe my Dutch grandmother and mother made.

But, butter is one of the things on the agenda today, specifically, butter pats. As the indoor eating season begins, the casual entertaining becomes a little more formal. I love these little plates.

In the Victorian era (late 1800s, the table was lavishly decorated. a well appointed table was not complete without individual butter pats. One of the reasons that the Arts and Crafts Society revolted against the Victorians was the frivolities like the butter pat. Formal Victorian tables were always set with great opulence and excess utensils. While the traditional table of the time was set with bread that was unbuttered and placed in the folds of the guest’s napkins other courses required a good buttering. The pats of butter were served on small plates, about 3 inches in diameter, placed left of center of the service plate. You can see the size of the pat in relation to a dinner plate...many people think these small dishes are from children's sets because of their size.

Another dish on this frivolous Victorian table was the bone dish. Designed to hold fish bones, they work nicely for any small bones. The design wraps around the plate, and it is better than having bones piled up on a dinner plate.
Keep in mind these folks had no KFC or piles of chicken wings. Sometimes the little extras are good things as Martha would say (and I bet she uses all these "frivolous" pieces---and, of course, she is not washing everything either I would guess!)


Still, looking at these small dishes, you realize how much our eating habits have changed. I am always fascinated by antiques/vintage for that reason; yes, we are preserving the past, but does it mean anything if we simply collect things and stash them in display cabinets? Even if you do not use these little dishes for butter or bones, they can hold a ring or loose change. Or something like cranberry sauce could nestle in the bone dish...does not have to be a bone, you know! So, recycle, reuse, repurpose.