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Mary Gregory . . . the Legend Lingers

November 08, 1986|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL

The Mary Gregory legend is one of many in the antique collector's world. It seems to linger--although it is probably not true. According to the authors of many books now available, Mary Gregory was a decorator at the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. of Sandwich, Mass. She allegedly was also a spinster who loved children, so she painted pictures of active children on the colored glass made by the factory about 1880.

The legends continue that Mary Gregory always painted children on the Sandwich glass with white paint. European factories sometimes tinted the cheeks of the children. Recent research has shown that in the 1920s an antiques dealer in Sandwich, Mass., imported some late 1800s glass from England. The glass was probably made in Germany, Bohemia and England, was colored in red, blue or green, and was decorated with white figures.

These pieces were purchased in Sandwich by people who thought they had the pieces made by the famous Mary Gregory. To date, no fragments of glass painted with children have been found at the factory site. The glass with the white figures is not like any examples of the glass found at the site. It would seem there is no authentic "Mary Gregory" from Sandwich. There do seem to be many types of glass decorated in a style that is now known by that name.

Question: When did they first start putting water glasses on the table?

Answer: Water was not served at the dinner table until the late 1800s. Wine, ale, coffee and tea were the beverages most often served before that time. Cookbooks usually had directions for purifying water in the 1850s. Bottled mineral water was available in many of the large cities. The bottle was opened and served as we would serve wine today. Ice water pitchers were popular during the 1850s. Water was kept in a double walled, silver plated pitcher that kept ice and water cool. It was not until the 1890s that fresh, clear water was easily available and served at the table.

Q. My dishes are marked "Herend" with a double shield above it. Can you tell me anything about it?

A. The Herend factory of Hungary has been making fine porcelains since 1826. The factory was purchased by Mor Fischer and collectors today often refer to the ceramics as "Fischer" porcelains. The mark was changed often but the word Herend and the shield were almost always included. Twentieth-century makers often include the date, the word Hungaria or Hungary, and olive branches. A full list of the marks and a history of the factory can be found in the new book "Herend, The Art of Hungarian Porcelain," by Gyozo Sikota (251 East 82 St., New York, N.Y. 10028, $28).

Q. I have an embroidered picture of a sailing ship that has been in my family for generations. Mother said that it was made by a relative who sailed on the ship. Can I learn more?

A. In the 19th century, it was not uncommon to have a hand-embroidered picture of a ship. The idea gained favor in Great Britain in the 1840s and remained in style until the 1880s. Photographs of the ships were available and were preferred. The ship portraits were probably made in the seaports to be purchased as souvenirs by visiting sailors. Sometimes it is possible to identify a ship but only if there is a name, flags, or special border information. A recent exhibition of 50 of these ship embroideries has added to the interest of collectors.

Tip: As a general rule, the drawer bottom of an 18th century chest was made of two or three pieces of wood, the Victorian drawer bottom was made from a single piece. The Victorian bottom was often screwed in place.


Bank, cast iron, mail box, Hubley, $30.

Barbie and Ken wardrobe case, 1964, $35.

Sterling silver grape shears, repousse grape design, $70.

Orrefors perfume bottle, crystal, bulbous, flat front and back, engraved swan on front, ball stopper, initials, numbered, 3 1/2 x 2 inches, 85.

Majolica teapot, Bird & Fan, $175.

Fairy lamp, owl, painted eyes, Clarke base, 4 inches, $225.

Tavern table, Queen Anne, maple, rectangular top, batten edges, plain apron, tapering cylindrical legs, pad feet, 26x39x23 3/4 inches, $950.

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