Monday, November 30, 2009

Spill Holder

I showed an 1840’s flint glass spoon holder to a customer the other day and she asked what I meant by a “spill holder“. After I explained and sold her the piece I decided that others did not know what spills were and so decided to add this to the information on my blog.

In basic terms, a spill holder or “Spill” is a vase or other vessel used before the widespread availability of friction matches to hold items which transferred a flame. Spills predate lamps and "spill" is a derivative of the word "spile" which means a small piece of wood.

We take matches for granted today, but that was not the case in 1850. Matches were first made in England about 1820 by hand dipping individual sticks in phosphorus and sulpher. However, they were hard to find in the U.S. and expensive for common usage. There were match manufacturers in Massachusetts and Philadelphia prior to 1860 but there is no evidence of their wide spread use. To light a stove, candle or pipe most people used splints, spills or tapers to transfer the flame from the fireplace, even if they could get matches.A spill is a twist of paper, sliver of wood, or spiral of wood shaving. A splint, or sliver of wood, was cheap and always on hand, cut from a larger piece using a knife or a spill-plane, although spill planes were not marketed as such until late in the 19th century. An early 19th century writing suggests the paper burned too quickly and ash flew about the house making a most disagreeable mess, but because they could be done with bright colors were more decorative.A taper is a very thin candle-like item with a tiny wick center. The earliest literary references to splints, spills and tapers date back to the 15th century, as do the vases that held them. The glass "spill holder" period is mostly limited to the 1840s and 50s. An abundance of early writings and paintings clearly depict a holder on the mantle with spills sticking out. Some suggest there is no article called a spill holder because no known advertisement, publication, or bill head lists them as such. Even the early inventories from the 17th to the 19th century list the items on or near a mantle (where a spill holder should be found) simply as mantle vases, mantle glasses (other than mirrors), or mantle-piece furniture. So the specific name may be a modern usage. However, It was important at that time to own a holder for spills, if not necessarily one made of glass. From 1700-1870 spill holders were made of wood, iron, earthenware, glass, and even fancy folded wall paper.

It is known that spills/spooners of the flint glass era were made in many of the same patterns that whale oil and kerosene lamps were made in. No less than thirty patterns are known to be represented in spill holder/lamp combinations.A change in mid-Victorian tastes plus the emergence of large EAPG table sets, and the dropping price of the friction match led to the demise of the pattern glass spill holder as such. The 1860s saw the genesis of the table set (usually covered butter, creamer, sugar & spooner). This ultimately lead to a redesignation and change of use of the spill holder to a spoon holder.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Political Collectibles

With the election coming up, it makes me think about all the political collectibles available. Political buttons have been the primary focus of collectors for a long time but recently collecting has expanded into other items as well.

Political buttons originated with George Washington. At his inauguration, Washington & his supporters wore a brass clothing button reading "G.W.-Long Live the President". With the invention of ferrotypes & tintypes, pictures were soon used. These were usually surrounded by a metal frame with a hole punched in it so a ribbon could be attached, & were usually worn on lapels. The 1st celluloid buttons, appeared in 1896 with the campaigns of William McKinley & William Jennings Bryan. These were made by placing a thin celluloid protective covering over a paper design & then wrapping it around a metal disk or pin-back button. Many colorful designs were created in the golden age, usually thought to be from 1896-1916. Button prices are driven by demand so winning candidates and more prominent Presidents generally sell for more. So many different buttons were produced you can find a common McKinley button for as cheap as $10 and a rare jugate (picture of both President and Vice President) as expensive as $400+. E-Bay sold a celluloid political pin-back button of the 1908 Taft-Sherman team for $9,200 not too long ago, and the Teddy Roosevelt and C.W. Fairbanks 1904 pin is worth about $11,000.

In the past other types of political collectibles were ignored and not as desirable. In 1982 I bought a silk Jugate handkerchief of Benjamin Harrison and Morton (1888) for $25 and two of their paper lanterns for $100. The handkerchief is now worth $450 - $550, and the lanterns are worth $1500-$2000 each. As you can see from the prices that has changed, but some items like china and glassware are still considered just interesting items by most current collectors and are thus reasonably priced. From this experience I have learned if you start collecting things before others become interested in them it can pay off investment wise, with a little luck.

Like everything there are some reproductions around. In the 1960-70s the American Oil Co. and Kleenex both made historical pin-backs as giveaways when you bought their products. These reproductions/fakes are usually easy to spot since they are often blurred, and lithographed on metal without a celluloid cover. Also a close examination of the side reveals an inscription like AO-1972 or Repro-1966 revealing date of manufacturing. Many of the originals had paper labels on the inside especially those made by Whitehead & Hoag one of the oldest and largest makers of the original pin-backs.

Since there are so many to choose from, I would recommend concentrating on a particular candidate or time period that you like and build a cohesive collection rather than a pin here and a pin there. If you are on a budget you could concentrate on interesting losers. I think a collection of 3rd party buttons would be very interesting and reasonably cheap to build.

I've seen some very unusual pieces, and political items can show up where you least expect them. I was asked to appraise a “crazy” quilt (random shapes and patterns), where the maker had obviously used old clothing scraps of satins and silks. I recognized old patterns used on ties, scarves, a couple of silk cigar advertising ribbons and there sewn in among everything else was an 1864 silk ribbon for Abraham Lincolns election. I was shocked, that ribbon alone doubled the value of the quilt. You just never know what someone has hidden away in a box or attic. So keep looking, maybe you’ll find one of those brass George Washington buttons in an old jar of clothing buttons.

If you are interested in more recent candidates, there are lots of new options for collecting, now not only buttons but bobble-heads, frisbees and dog toys to name just a few. If the political arena interests you, these collectibles can make very interesting collections. Those of you already collectors in the political realm, I'd be interested to know what pieces you've found and any history that goes with the piece.