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Get Cranking on 19th-Century Gadgets

December 17, 1987|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: Like a lot of people, I'll be spending a great deal of time in the kitchen during this holiday season. I enjoy cooking, and it also keeps me thinking about one of my favorite pastimes, collecting old kitchen equipment. You should tell your readers what an enjoyable hobby this is and that there are plenty of collectors around the country.--F.E.

Answer: From the letters we get, we can conclude that this is a very popular collectible. A problem, however, is that it's difficult to make judgments on the value of kitchen collectibles with any precision because there are dozens of different items in this field that haven't been categorized very well by subject or analyzed for resale value.

To be sure, some collectors (Linda Campbell Franklin, author of "300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles," Crown Publishers, 1981, comes to mind) have written with care on the subject, but, still, not a lot of research has been done on the history and value of these collectibles.

On the other hand, collectors with not a lot of money to spend can have a field day because kitchen collectibles seem to abound at relatively low prices at flea markets and country stores. From kettles to cookie cutters, from apple parers to myriad containers and utensils, the field is fairly bursting with a veritable history of American technology and customs.

Many collectors like to concentrate on kitchen items produced before the turn of the 20th Century because this was an era before mass production of food in factories. Therefore, dozens of kitchen gadgets had to be invented to relieve the daily burden of preparing meals. Included and sought after by collectors, are cutters, graters, seeders and nutcrackers.

In seeking such items, the collector should be wary of dealers who have "restored" such items. Genuine kitchen collectibles can be severely damaged if they are brushed, buffed or polished, and their value can plunge accordingly.

Additionally, be cautious about buying an item that is too perfectly restored because it could easily be a fake--that is, a kitchen collectible of more recent vintage being passed off as an antique.

One of the most delightful collectibles in this category are the Rube Goldberg-type inventions centering around the lost art of apple peeling. In fact, the 19th-Century apple parer can command a high price if it's in good condition.

More than 150 patents were issued during that century for apple-peeling contraptions with wheels, gears and pulleys--all designed to peel an apple!

All of this may seem a bit overdone when one considers modern food-production techniques. But in pre-mass production days, it was critical to peel, cook and dry apples before winter set in.

Q: I have a fairly large knife collection, among which are several good examples of Case knives. How far back can they go?--B.N.

A: Knife historians say the Case family began producing the highly collectible knives in 1896 in Little Valley, N.Y. Instrumental in the initial production were the three sons of Job Case, a farmer who was never actually involved in the cutlery business. Later, the firm's name evolved into W.R. Case & Son and then into W.R. Case & Sons.

For decades, the Case name has commanded a premium and the knives' resale value has been excellent, dealers say.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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