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When Blast From the Past Led to a Gasp

February 24, 2001|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine the smells that must have existed in the 18th century when there was little plumbing, no refrigeration for food and a tradition of infrequent bathing and laundering. To mask the odors, homemade pomanders, powders, scented waters and potpourri were used.

Concoctions of lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, garlic, wormwood, rue, cinnamon, clover and nutmeg were mixed with vinegar to create a fresh smell. The pungent liquids were kept in small enameled boxes, glass or ceramic urns, and bottles. Tiny silver or gold boxes held sponges soaked in these liquids. Large containers of the mixtures were kept open in a room, and small ones were carried to be sniffed when needed.

By the 19th century, small porcelain bottles that looked like figurines--perhaps a shepherdess or a gentleman--were popular as scent holders. The figure's head was the stopper. Many of the major potteries, including Chelsea, Wedgwood, Jacob Petit, Sevres and Rockingham, created the small bottles, each less than 2 inches tall. Today they are prized by collectors of perfume bottles as well as those who admire the intricate designs of the porcelain makers.

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Question: My Art Deco-style water pitcher is marked "Alamo Pottery Inc. San Antonio."

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Answer: The Alamo Pottery worked in San Antonio about 1944 and worked until the 1950s. Its pottery was hand-thrown and had brightly colored glazes.

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Q: On a trip to England, my wife bought a 12-inch, rectangular, Blue-Willow-pattern platter. The maker's name on the back is "J. and M.P. Bell and Company, Glasgow, Scotland." Instead of being bright-blue on white, the pattern is pale blue and the background cream-colored. When was the platter made? Have the colors faded?

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A: J. & M.P. Bell & Co. worked in Glasgow from 1842 to 1928. The company used the mark you describe from about 1850 to 1870. So your platter is about 150 years old. Blue-Willow-pattern china was first made in England in 1790 by Spode. Since then, it has been produced by countless other firms in Europe and the United States. The brightness and hue of the blue and white on Blue Willow varies. Your platter was made with a light-blue transfer design. It has not faded.

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Q: A year ago, I bought a pair of upholstered wooden chairs at a yard sale. Under each seat is a tag that reads "Phoenix Chair Co., Largest Chair Factory in the World Under One Roof."

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A: The Phoenix Chair Co. worked in Sheboygan, Wis., from about 1880 to 1929. The company made chairs like yours and also breakfast sets, dining-room suites, stools, rocking chairs and highchairs. It specialized in oak reproductions of Victorian styles.

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Q: I am trying to find information about a cream-colored punch bowl with 24 matching mugs. The set belonged to my father-in-law. The bowl and mugs are each marked "Hall" inside a circle. We're curious about the words "Tom & Jerry" on the side of the bowl and mugs. What do they refer to? Can you tell us when the set was made and if it is valuable?

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A: Your Tom & Jerry set was made during the 1930s by the Hall China Co. of East Liverpool, Ohio. The words refer to a party drink that was popular at the time. It's a warm, sweetened drink made of rum, water, spices and beaten eggs. It's topped with sprinkled nutmeg. Your set would sell for more than $200.

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Q: My advertising mirror once hung in my great-grandfather's store. It has a wooden frame painted gold. Imprinted on the mirror is "Gooch's Sarsaparilla for the Blood and Liver." Can you tell me anything about it?

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A: D. Linn Gooch of Ironton, Ohio, sold his brand of sarsaparilla from about 1879 to 1882. The brand was later sold by other companies, including the Cincinnati Drug and Chemical Co., founded by Gooch in the early 1880s.

Sarsaparilla was made of smilax vine roots mixed with alcohol and other flavorings. It was marketed as a blood purifier that could cure syphilis, skin diseases, tumors, rheumatism and various other diseases. Your mirror advertised this patented medicine.

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Q: My husband bought a full-size bed at a recent auction. The auctioneer described the bed as a "sleigh bed." My husband won't tell me what he paid for the bed, but it doesn't resemble a sleigh in any way. What is a sleigh bed?

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A: A sleigh bed resembles an old-fashioned horse-drawn sleigh. The headboard and footboard are the same height, or close to it. Both boards are curved out from the bed and are topped by curved, rounded rails.

The sizes of sleigh beds vary, but many were twin-size and were used as daybeds. Sleigh beds were popular from the early- to mid-1800s. The bed your husband bought might not be a sleigh bed, but if you like the bed, thank him and don't ask what he paid for it.

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Current Figures

Prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary because of local economic conditions.

* Salem Dairy, Shacklefords, Va., milk bottle, round, green painted label, half pint, $50.

* Royal Doulton figurine, Grace, HN 2318, $120.

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