Children's toys of past decades are reminders not only of childhood but also of the everyday activities of the time. The metal dial phone that was popular with children of the '50s would be unrecognized as a phone by most children today.
Toy kitchens today have microwave ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators and even electric mixers. The early 19th century toy kitchen featured an open fireplace and hanging pots.
The late 19th century toy kitchen might have had a log-burning stove with cast-iron kettles and pots. The early 20th century toy kitchen could have had one of the early electric stoves, and pots made of aluminum or granite ware.
Until the mid-20th century, kitchens were made of unmatched parts. The "modern" kitchen--decorated with stainless steel, ceramics or plastic for built-in cabinets, stoves, sinks and other appliances that were made to match--was first inspired by the World's Fair example in 1940.
No one can collect old kitchens, but toy kitchens, stoves and utensils can remind us of how cooking was done in earlier times.
Question: My sister bought a carved whale's tooth at a garage sale. On each side is a picture of a sailing ship and the words "Chinchilla, New York." There are other letters that are meaningless to me, plus the word "Artek." Can you tell me anything about it?
Answer: Your sister has a piece of fake scrimshaw. Scrimshaw, the art of carving whalebone, was a pastime for artistic New England whalers in the early 1800s. Artek Inc. of Antrim, N.H., made your sister's reproduction using what the company describes as "polymer ivory." It is actually a hard plastic. Your sister's reproduction is one of several that were marketed as Artek's "Save the Whale Collection."
Q I would like to know how my old folding lantern was used. It is metal, with an isinglass window and a movable metal handle. When the lantern is closed, the window is hidden inside. When it's opened, the handle is at the top and the window is in the front. The metal is stamped to read "The Stonebridge Folding Lantern, Patd. Nov. 20, 1906, June 9, 1908, C.H. Stonebridge Mfg. Co., N.Y.C."
A Your folding lantern is called a "candle lantern." It was made of galvanized steel. The light source was an ordinary wax candle placed in a built-in holder behind the isinglass window. It was a practical device to help light the way to the outhouse or barn. It's worth $150.
Q What would have been in a Victorian dressing-table set? I never know if I am getting a complete set.
A The set of containers displayed on a dressing table in the bedroom became popular in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the set had grown to include many new pieces. Each set had a tray, probably a comb-and-brush set and a mirror.
It might also have included a hair receiver, pin tray, hatpin holder, toothbrush holder, soap dish, talcum-powder jar, rouge jar, powder box, several perfume flasks and bottles, trinket box, glove stretcher, button hook, nail buffer, manicure scissors, nail file, cuticle shaper, clock, picture frame and shoe horn.
Not all of these items were in one set. Sets were sold with six to 24 pieces. Sets were made of celluloid, silver or silver plate, gold plate or other decorated metal, or porcelain that was often hand-painted.
Q One of my favorite childhood memories is of my mother's huge glass jar full of buttons. I spent hours sorting through the buttons and finding my favorites. When were buttons first used on clothing? Do people collect old ones?
A Historians know buttons were used as clothing fasteners in the Middle East by the 6th century. It was during that era that clothing became tighter, requiring a "tool" to keep garments closed. By the 13th century, there was a button-making industry in France. Within 300 years, the industry was organized across Europe, including England.
Buttons became highly decorative and could be found made of marcasite, enamel, pearl, silver, gold and jewels. They were almost exclusively used on men's clothing. That changed during the 19th century, when women started wearing clothing with decorative buttons. By the end of the 19th century, buttons were mass-produced. Old or unusual buttons and those made of expensive materials are especially sought by collectors.
For a listing of helpful books and publications, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope to Kovels, Los Angeles Times, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017.
Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary because of local economic conditions.
* Pressed glass "beaded mirror" goblet, grape-and-fern etch, 5 3/4 inches, $110.
* Hill's Bros. thermometer, man in turban logo, porcelain, circa 1915, 21 by 9 inches, $135.
* Pluto child's rocking armchair, covered in white-and-yellow vinyl, decal of Pluto by his doghouse, Walt Disney Productions, 1950s, $255.
* Schafer & Vater figurine, No. 9870, grizzly bear, cowboy dancing with woman, 6 inches, $310.
* Steiff Panda Bear, black-and-white mohair, brown glass eyes, stitched black nose, open mouth, felt pads, pink accent, 1950s, 9 inches, $750.
* Sampler, verse of the Ten Commandments, sewn by Dianna Field, 1799, silk on linen, 17 by 6 inches, $795.
* Harriet Beecher Stowe book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Boston, 1852, two-volume set, $2,500.