Scotland was the center in the mid 19th century of what we call The Cottage Industry: people are always amused when that old paisley shawl really did come from a crofter’s cottage in Paisley, Scotland. Likewise a reader (I will give his name here because no doubt with this name he is also a Scot: Laughlin) sends me a Mauchlin Ware eyeglass case and a pair of late 19th C. spectacles.
Mauchlin Ware is a Scottish collectible, with transfer scenes of tourist sights mounted on sycamore wood, almost all exclusively made by one family in one cottage industry: the Smiths of Mauchline, Ayrshire, now Strathclyde, Scotland. The Smith family graduated into a business called W. & A. Smith of Mauchlin, which employed at its peak nearly the whole of the town at 400 people, and produced vast numbers of souvenirs like this eyeglass case, of not only Scottish views but also views of North America, Australia and even South Africa.
A little bedridden chappie, named John Sandy, in Alyth, Perthshire, now called Tayside, invented the hidden hinged snuff box, where the teeth of the hinge were carved in the top and the side of the box and connected with a metal rod which passed through the center. Because he was an invalid, this meant that someone else had to manufacture and market the box, which fell to Charles Stiven from Laurencekirk. The snuffbox became the RAGE in the late 18th century and developed the moniker the Laurencekirk box, which was then produced in Cummock, a few miles from Mauchline.
Scots are kind adventurers but they are also devious, and when someone brought William and Andrew Smith a Laurencekirk box to repair, they copied it, finding instant production success, and dropping there hitherto staple of razor hones, made from their house. So thus, the Smith family became W. & A. Smith Company.
The snuff as a fashion began to be ‘sneezed at’ by the mid 19th century, and the Smith family decided to make other wooden things like hidden hinge tea caddies and stamp boxes, but also branching out to eye glass cases and egg cups, and as we will see many more objects of virtue.
Now, in the late 19th century, the Smiths had a Scottish stoke of genius. What if they created decals, called transfers, of all the hot spots of tourism, and mounted them on these boxes (et. al.) of sycamore wood, and promised each seller of souvenirs in each of those tourist spots that THEY would have this HOT tourist item solely. Which they did! They had so many orders that they developed a speed varnish process which protected the decal as well as miraculously holding the flimsy sycamore wood together for a hundred years.
The most expensive of these had more than one view but these views were always related either by subject or geography. A case in point was the Burnsian Line, after Robert (Rabbie) Burns, the famous Scottish poet in which all things Burns were featured on a piece. The next most popular object was similar, woodenware decorated with all things Sir Walter Scott.
Another trait of the Scots is notoriously THRIFT. When the railway dominated the tourist market and then when later motor transport upset the tourism market, the Smith family declined to produce any NEW views (decals or transfers) with any of the modern transportation devices celebrated thereon. Which means for almost 80-years of producing these souvenirs they did not change ONE view.
The only concession to modernity was that the Smiths recognized that to produce a scene from the NEW medium of photography was cheaper than hiring drafters, they developed a new line of Mauchlin Ware which is today called by collectors “stick on” photograph ware.
Since the Scottish character tends towards engineering, one of the workers in the Smith production line began to fool around with those early cameras, and since he had none of the extensive decals used by the Smiths, Archibald Brown aligned himself with Scotland’s most famous early photographer George Washington Wilson, and began to compete with the Smiths making much the same Mauchlin Ware.
From 1860-1900 Brown’s Mauchlin Ware business and Smith’s Mauchlin Ware business produced needlework, cosmetic, stationary, food related objects, to mention only a few.
Laughlin, this collector of Mauchlin Ware who sends me the eyeglass case, writes that he has collar cases, containers for pins and needles, holders for pencils, holders for string, novelty inkwells, shot glass holders for whiskey, stamp boxes, and quite a few napkin rings.
By now, the world was noticing Mauchlin Ware, and Coates and Clarks, to mention a few sewing items companies, commissioned the makers of Mauchlin Ware to make custom spools for their companies, and other sewing related objects.
The two most obviously Scottish forms of this ware, to my mind, sum up the Scottish-ness of this ware. One is called a “go to beds,” which is a Mauchlin Ware tiny candleholder with one slot for ONE matchstick, enough to light one small candle for getting up to you bedroom. Notice I ONE match, speaking to the thriftiness of the Scots. The other telling object is the Mauchlin Ware trick moneybox, in which you may never see those coins you squirrel away within.
The value of Laughlin’s eyeglass case with period steel spectacles is $400.
S.H. is helping to close down her late friend's home. She found a framed disc carved with curling beasts mounted under glass. The material, she thinks, is bone. The outside diameter is 10 inches and the piece is about an inch thick; the center bears a 2-inch diameter hole. She thinks her friend may have collected it in Alaska, where she used to visit.
S.H. is about 3,500 miles off, however, and the material is not bone. This is a Chinese bi disc, a type of circular ancient jade artifact, found in tombs of noble emperors and aristocrats, often discovered resting upon the lower abdomen. Their true meaning is unclear, but since the beasts depicted here are "sky dragons" and the swirls that outline them are stylized clouds, this type of bi disc is usually associated with the heavens. Because they are found in tombs, archaeologists surmise they are considered conduits for communication with the ancestors. It's interesting to me that the one piece S.H. finds intriguing in her late friend's home is an artifact thought to open the portals to communication with deceased loved ones. Even though S.H. might not know what this piece is, or where it comes from, its power is compelling. This often happens with objects of great and aged symbolism.
The earliest discovered bi discs date from the Neolithic period during the Lanzhou culture (3400-2250 BCE). S.H.'s find might be a 20th century reproduction, because of the classic and enduring nature of Chinese art, or it could even hail from the Shang, Zhou or Han dynasties. Chinese artists pride themselves on keeping a tradition the same over thousands of years, so age is often hard to tell. But these objects were indeed precious: During the Zhou Dynasty, so important were these bi discs that a defeated general surrendered his bi to his captor. They have been passed down in families for generations.
S.H., the disc symbolizes communication with those departed as well as the spirits of heaven. But like many Asian symbols, this bi has a counterpoint symbol called a cong. S.H., look around your late friend's house for the object most often found with the bi disc — the cong vessel. The cong is a tube of jade or ceramic with a circular inner section and squarish outer shell — a hollow cylinder inside a square block. The square cong symbolizes the earth, and the round bi symbolizes the sky. These ritual objects were handled by Chinese shamans to evoke the revolving, covering sky, keeping guard over a central, still hollow point. And always the polarity of the earth, the cong, existed under the bi, the heavens.
S.H.'s hand-carved disc features old white jade, with an aged-looking surface. Jade is such a treasured, and, today, very valuable material that old jade is difficult to ascertain. It is a very hard stone, and because of its beauty and hard surface, it bears a carved surface throughout time.
Jade, the ancient legend tells us, is a Chinese gift from the gods, discovered by the legendary ancestor Bian He in the early days on Mount Chu. Presenting the stone to his emperor, who had never seen jade before in its incipient, hidden nature, Bian He's emperor could not see the precious jade deep in the surrounding gray stone. Bian He insisted that his emperor quarry the jade — and become rich: All the Emperor could see was common, gray stone. The precious jade was hidden inside, a metaphor for many treasures.
The emperor punished both Bian He and his son as fools and liars. In good time, three generations later, Bian He's ancestor finally convinced Emperor Wen of the existence of the encased jade. In 221 BCE, when the emperor conquered the Warring States, he ordered the jade bi disc carved to become forevermore his imperial seal.
Values for bi discs vary greatly because the Chinese rulers have treasured this type of artifact for thousands of years. A modern (20th century) reproduction might sell at auction for $500, depending on the quality of the jade. Age is difficult to ascertain, because the jade material may be ancient, itself, although the carving might be relatively recent. If "recent" means 300 to 400 years ago, S.H.'s might be a Ming Dynasty piece, and could be worth $1,500 to $3,000. A Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bi disc, depending on the jade quality, could be worth $1,000 to $2,000. Thus, age and quality of jade as well as the precision of the carving are determinates of value.
J.S. from Santa Barbara has a little stuffed toy fox from the 1960s capturing all the kitsch and whimsy of the era. The fox is wearing a visor and double-breasted black vest from which a playing card — the ace of diamonds — peeks out from the pocket. He's also sporting a black string tie and, like any good Vegas card shark, a dealer's apron. In one hand, he holds a dice, revealing a snake eye.
A hang tag, still intact, reads "Dream Pets, R Dakin and Company, San Francisco, California, product of Japan (All New Materials), Las Vegas #1175." This little fox was meant to be a memento of Las Vegas, fast becoming the gaming capital of the world in the 1960s.
In an indication of how these little toys captured the imaginations of collectors back in the '60s, whoever purchased this toy penned in the following: "Seattle, 1967." These geographical remembrances were something that the Dakin Co. was very successful at doing. Families were traveling in the 1960s, and little souvenirs were important to the youngsters. Families such as mine had four or more kids in that big station wagon. These toys were cute and affordable and made into a series so that kids wanted to collect them as they traveled. We will see that Dakin was savvy.
I am astounded by the variety of these whimsical little creations by the Dakin Co. Among them are an octopus wearing eyeshadow, a hippo nurse wearing a hospital candy striper's gown, a lobster with a jaunty sailor cap. Then there's a whole series of little animals, like the one belonging to J.S., that remind someone of a certain area of the U.S. How did these come about?
Back in 1955, Richard Y. Dakin, a firearms dealer, began to import pricey handcrafted Italian and Spanish shotguns, doing a nice but selective business. Richard son's, Roger, who joined the firm in 1957, began to import bikes, sailboats and a few nice toy trains, along with the guns. The trains arrived from Japan cushioned by a few little stuffed toys, used as packing material. Back at company headquarters in San Francisco, Roger thought he would have a go with these little stuffed animals. From the firearm business to the stuffed toy business was a big leap, but Roger took it, and ordered a trial lot from Japan.
So successful were these little stuffed animals — none more than 8 inches tall — that the late 1950s political conventions asked for a Republican mascot (elephant) and Democratic mascot (donkey).
The accidental packing material from Japan was a portend of corporate success. Roger Dakin had to buy a factory for the new interest in the small toys. Japan could not make them fast enough! In 1964, Dakin bought a plush toy factory in the Tulare County town of Lindsay. By the mid-1960s, Dakin had factories to make these "Dream Pets" in Japan, Hong Kong and Mexico. By the 1970s, Dakin was selling these creatures in 35 countries.
If you were a kid in the 1990s, you were no stranger to Dakin stuffed animals or cartoon figures. Dakin/Applause Co. (a merger) capitalized on a new trend — the action figure — and you might have even treasured a California Raisin, Smurf or "Star Trek" stuffed toy as a young Gen Xer.
As a boomer, I have always remembered one particular Dakin toy: a 1960s stuffed red dachshund, labeled down his back "Niagara Falls." This was an autograph toy, holding memories of a trip to the Maid of the Mist. Signatures of my cousins, and a few unknown visitors I met, are penned on his back.
Dakin made such tourist industry toys for all the major areas in the U.S. The company also made a line for Disney shops.
So what is J.S.'s little gambling Vegas fox worth? As with all toys, condition is key, and J.S's is perfect. A collector would pay $20, but a connoisseur of Dream Pets (yes, they exist!) would drop more than $100 for this foxy gambler.
A.S. from Santa Ynez has a 26-inch square, canvas-mounted, blue-toned old map of a "Portion of the Rancho Santa Margarita, and adjoining lands, San Luis Obispo, CAL, property of Ferdinand Reis." The cartographer, often a major clue to the value of old maps, is T.A. McMahon, CE, and the map is dated 1901.
Interestingly, the property is vast: The map states "Containing: inside Rancho (exclusive of R.R. Right of Way, R.R. Quarry and Town site) 14,840.63 acres" and the outside of the Rancho property at 3,432.93. Quite a surveying job in 1901, when electronic resonance instruments were a thing of the future and the topography, as it is here, is complex.
The scale, says the map, is 40 chains to an inch, a grand total of 18,273.56 acres.
A "chain" is a unit of length often used in old land maps made by the U.S. General Land Office. The antique measure is also called a Gunter's chain or surveyor's chain. Cartographer McMahon, a county surveyor by profession, is not one of the West's most famous mapmakers, such as the long-serving head of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, John James Abert (1788-1863), who was followed in this family of cartographers by his son, James William (1820-1897). I find one other map attributed to McMahon, "Official Map of Contra Costa County, California." It's actually credited to T.A. McMahon and Wm. Minto, civil engineer, dated Feb. 4, 1885, in an interesting little catalog from 1887.
Late 19th and early 20th century maps of the West are particularly interesting because they are physical representations of the philosophy of an era, when classifications and categories defined natural phenomena, Indian tribes, rivers and ranchos. Research into period maps is difficult with minor cartographers; in the 19th century, cartographers were simply working men.
McMahon's map of Contra Costa is mentioned in the University of California Library Bulletin No. 9, A List of Printed Maps of California (Berkeley, 1887). One of the most famous of all California cartography aficionados is mentioned as the inspiration for this ambitious book — Hubert Howe Bancroft's (1832-1918) History of the Northwest Coast is included as a centerpiece of the Berkeley library's catalog. The 1887 book claims to have sent out request letters asking for maps. Pleas were sent to libraries, halls of records, railroads, real estate offices, bankers and mining company's offices, as well as state and government bureaus. A list of maps and cartographers known in 1887 is cited.
What a stretch it is to think of the effort to gather maps together in 1887, and what a novel idea back then. Today, Google Earth and Microsoft mapping, drone shots and laser/lidar photography is ubiquitous; we forget that the early cartographer's job was challenging and literally earth-defining, when one miscalculation could change fortunes forever.
Rancho Margarita, writes Michael A. Moodian, author of Rancho Santa Margarita, a book from the Images of America series, was one of a few ranchos that served Mission San Juan Capistrano; Southeast Orange County was interconnected by ranchos of such vast acreages. These included Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, today occupied, in part, by Camp Pendleton.
Wonderful talks of the rancho must have been told as McMahon measured those 18,273.56 acres. The seal of the city of Rancho Santa Margarita bears three gold keys; this iconic imagery bears witness to an attempted theft in 1818 of three locked boxes of gold and silver from Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission was under siege by Argentinian robbers: Priests secreted chests of treasures to the old Trabuco Adobe, where they were buried, lore has it, under a sycamore tree. At the date of this map (1901), a fire damaged the old adobe, which had been built by the mission priests in 1806 as a herd station for Trabuco Mesa. McMahon might also have heard that this same adobe housed Pio Pico in 1846 as he hid from the Americans in the Mexican-American War.
A.S. was intrigued that this old map was mounted on canvas, and although he thought the map must be rare, because of its age, I found others like his for sale for around $100 on abebooks.com and raremaps.com. Because of the skill today in the reproduction of older maps, we would need to see the material on which comparable maps are mounted to make sure of the authenticity of the maps offered for sale. Another resource, A.S., is the Bancroft Library at Stanford. Call and make a request to see a copy of your map.
Elizabeth continues her discussion on downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. In this episode she talks about what to do with items you want to keep. She also gives advice about having a garage sale.
R.S. from Lompoc has a vintage Empire Trav'l-Toast Multi-Purpose Toaster, which plugs into a car's cigarette lighter and operates on 12 volts. Right on the yellow metal box (from which a sleeve to hold a slice of bread pops up), we read, "Make toast, toasted sandwiches, fruit tarts, frozen waffles and french toast" and "For vans, campers, cars, trucks, boats."
What an amazing, deadly, distracted-driver piece of 1970s technology. I am told that 12 volts handled poorly can cause some serious nerve damage!
Assuming people in 1970 fished inside the toaster for renegade toast, nerve damage might have been a possibility. And that would have been attempted while driving! If every object tells a story, this object tells us about the long lost art of the self-sufficient, impetuous family vacation on the American highway.
The unit was manufactured by The Metal Ware Corp., founded in 1920 in Two Rivers, Wis. The company, known for small kitchen appliances, is still in business today, with its specialty convection ovens marketed on QVC. The Metal Ware Co. is truly a remarkable industry, skating just one step ahead of market trends. The electronic travel gadget is one example of this corporation's habitual resourcefulness in the almost-kitsch American marketplace. Thus, this one object speaks of the lost art of the family vacation and the innocence of the American consumer around that yearly pilgrimage.
The story of this toaster is also the story of American capitalism at its most fortuitous. The Metal Ware Co. seems to have been in the right markets at the right times: In the 1920s, the company's profit jumped with the manufacture of a small, fully contained stove at 21 inches by 17 inches by 10 inches, perfect for single working people. In the 1920s, a national wave of industry in major American cities called for new single-occupancy domiciles — called the "apartment complex." Apartment dwellers needed small stoves, and Metal Ware provided.
In wartime (1941-45), the Metal Ware Co. used its serendipitous market savvy and was called upon to make small electric lanterns for GIs and small appliances for naval vessels.
After the war (1946-80), the American consumer market changed to home-based economies of scale. Metal Ware Co. marketed small kiddie electric irons and daughter-sized ironing boards, family electric popcorn units (think of the growing ubiquity of the family TV set), and ladies' portable home hair dryers. (I remember my mother's pink "Lady Aristette," a waist-strapped shell-shaped hair dryer, limited only by the length of the electric cord.)
In the 1970s, a new wave of home-related objects offered by Metal Ware capitalized on two new market trends: ground, canned coffee and family travel. When we think of travel today, we think of professional travel. But in the 1970s, travel often involved the family station wagon. Metal Ware Co. manufactured coffee "Kar'N Home Kits" — coffee makers adaptable enough for a car trip or a family hotel/motel stay.
R.S.'s little Trav'l-Toast unit is an example of the family vacation gear of the early 1970s, when fast food was not available on every dusty American highway. The Trav'l-Toast had cousins: the Empire Trav'l-Mate automatic coffee maker kit and the Empire Port-A-Fry, a 12-volt traveling frying pan. I can only imagine a gadget-head father driving the station wagon — Mom is making coffee, frying eggs and making toast beside him on the bench seat.
Well before Starbucks put coffee on every corner of American streets, Mom and Dad were grateful for a travel coffee kit. My dad operated one in the 1973 paneled Pontiac Catalina Safari with chrome luggage rack on the way to our family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Think of market confluence here: Toaster machines and coffee maker kits would not be possible without presliced bread and ground coffee, also a phenomenon of the American mid-century. One jump in technology engenders another marketing opportunity. In this amusing little Trav'l-Toast, we find a reminder of the self-sufficient American family vacation, Griswold-style. I wonder, however, how many baby brothers went up in smoke? Consider, also, the casualness of making coffee, frying eggs, and toasting bread in a car. In 1970, you couldn't be pulled over for texting (let alone no seat belts), and in that age of memorable family vacations (with at least four hungry kids lounging on the back floor of the station wagon), I doubt anyone would pull you over for making breakfast.
Its value is a mere $25, but what innocence and family dreams (and nightmares) this unit evokes!
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart continues her discussion on downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. In this episode she talks about how to donate items to the correct organizations.
A.C. in Lompoc has a complete boxed "Brainstorm Beanie," circa 1954, marketed by the Jim Prentice Electric Toy Co. What makes this so special? The condition! Children's toys are not usually found unused in a pristine box after 63 years.
Although there's no date on the box, I found the date of production by searching vintage comic books. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic book publishers realized they had a powerful and willing mass market — boys — who would clip out an order form and send in money for a host of amazing (or so they appeared) toys and offers. Comic Favorites Inc. advertised the Brainstorm Beanie with such a mail order form in August of 1954 in a copy of "Jonesy #7."
Jonesy (Marvin Jones), Carol Lynne, J.P. Barnaby and Weepy, high school friends, palled around and went on various adventures in the "Jonesy" series. The August 1954 issue featured a few other notable advertisements: "Now You Can Fly a Real Jet Plane," offered by Jetex F-102, and Charles Atlas' claim of fitness for the 97-pound weakling: "The Insult that Turned a Chump into a Champ." Brainstorm Beanie was in great company: Charles Atlas (aka Angelo Siciliano, 1882-1972) was arguably the most successful bodybuilder and ad man of his time, offering to send his "Dynamic Exercise Materials" to skinny young men across the U.S. Brainstorm Beanie, on the other hand, offered to "light up" a youngster's brilliant ideas. Apparently, the era of the manic inventor reached down into kids' kitsch, transforming a generation of boys into mad scientists.
The form of the Brainstorm Beanie was, of course, a beanie cap in blue velvet, labeled "Brainstorm Beanie" in embroidered letters over the forehead. Beanie caps became popular in the late 1940s due to the TV sock puppet kids' show "Time for Beany," which ran with great popularity for five years, later becoming a syndicated animated cartoon, "Beany and Cecil," where Capt. Horatio Huffenpuff's nephew, Beany Boy, palled around with Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Of course, Beany Boy wore a flying propeller beanie, fast adopted by TV character Beaver Cleaver, and many college frat boys thereafter.
The first “propeller head” (today a term for technophiles) was worn by a science fiction writer in 1947 at a World Convention of sci-fi aficionados in Detroit: advertisers saw the potential and capitalized on boys’ fascinations with jet propellers, atomic energy, helicopter double blades, and finally electric power in toys. As in AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, sci-fi was transformed into low-end novelty. This itself was so uniquely American that the propeller beanie was featured at the Brussels World's Fair of 1958 at the US Pavilion in an exhibit called “How America Lives.” Imagine the shock as compared to the controversially serious Soviet Pavilion next-door.
The inventor of the Brainstorm Beanie, a beanie with a difference, however, was a mathematics student who became a lifelong games-maker. Jim Prentice was the Father of Electronic Baseball Games (named by collectors as such, worldwide); in fact, he was the actual father of The Electric Games Company, employing at its peak 200 employees in an 80K sq. ft. factory in Holyoke, MA.
Today it is difficult to imagine that the introduction of electricity to boy’s toys would be groundbreaking, but the inclusion of a battery (late 1930’s- mid 1950’s) created electro-mechanical action toys and games complete with flashing lights and moving parts. AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, likewise, has a flash-able red light at the crown of the beanie, controlled by one massive handheld container for a large battery cell, attached to the hat with an obvious cord.
What did Mr Prentice claim to be the benefits of wearing a flashing red light beanie, controllable at will? The box says it all; a boy can - and will "Light up an Idea, Send Secret Code, Be Safe on Dark Roads, Be the Center of Attention and Laffs” (sic), and “Many Other Uses”. What might those many other uses be? Synchronized thinking, perhaps?
Amazing, also, in these high-tech game days, that the simple use of a word “Electric” emblazoned on the box used as a marketing hook for scores of young men. Those young men saw ‘electric’ and ordered post-haste from the comic book ad: there’s no denying that sci fi was everywhere in the 1950’s, even on the top of Junior’s head.
The value, because of the almost new condition, and the iconic “back story” (provenance) of the Brainstorm Beanie is $200.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart talks about downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. She explains her five pile method.
S.C., who works at a Ventura thrift store, sent me a photo of a mahogany box with paneled front and sides that is raised on turned legs with 'tipt' feet (the legs are lathed and taper to a fine point). The lid is hinged and can be lifted, and the top exterior is fitted with something warmer than wood, perhaps leather. The case piece is mortise and tenon joined, which means it is pre-1840 if it is American or pre-1820 if it is English.
Under the lid there's a white ceramic pot inside a commodious wooden platform. S.C., this is a toilet, circa the second quarter of the 19th century.
Although S.C.'s toilet does not flush, the technology was known to ancient civilizations such as the Indus Valley (2600-1900 BCE), which had sewers and flushing toilets. The Minoans of ancient Crete (2000-1500 BCE) had drainage systems and water toilets. The Roman goddess of the sewers was Cloacina, "The Cleanser," who watched as citizens perched over the Cloaca Maxima (Greatest Drain), the main trunk of the Roman sewer system. Regrettably, the Middle Ages saw a reversal in waste management.
Fast forward to 1596, when Joseph Harrington's novel idea of a flush cistern sadly languished; the idea was revisited and patented in 1775 by Alexander Cumming. Modern society continued to eliminate in a wooden box with a porcelain insert like S.C.'s until the late 19th century. One had either a water or an earth closet (with granulated clay), and if you were lucky and rich, you had servants for that sort of thing.
Many of my clients present me with lovely floral decorated bowls with one handle and tell me that although it is old, it has always been their family's favorite popcorn bowl. Old chamber pots were finely decorated and treasured as an invaluable piece of the family's hygiene for years. And when the wood boxes that housed them decayed, the bowl remained for a new life after plumbing, although how the popcorn feels about this we can only surmise.
S.C.'s toilet was the latest in waste management until 1884, when the first pedestalled toilet — made of porcelain — was invented.
Indeed, inside toilets in the late 19th and early 20th century were a design-build luxury, and until 1890, American toilet paper rolls had not been thought of. In Europe, rolled toilet paper did not exist until 1928, one year before my mother was born. If you were around before those momentous dates, you would have saved a newspaper for a more personal use after finishing it. Because folks were accustomed to saving newsprint for future use, the first "toilet paper" was about the size and shape of a newspaper.
If you were not lucky enough to have a plumbed toilet in your home in 1892, you could have visited a public lav in London, thanks to John Nevil Maskelyne, who patented the penny lock. When you tell your boss that you have to leave the meeting to "spend a penny," you can thank John Nevil Maskelyne.
Because most homes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had such thunder boxes as S.C.'s, not surprisingly, they are not valuable in the antiques market. As the craze for indoor plumbing took hold in the early 1900s, people were quick to ditch their old commodes. But not all of them. When I see them used, proudly, as an article of furniture today, I sometimes see a potted plant, and am told they are plant holders.
They are not. They are simply old heads. (By the way, a "head" was a toilet on a ship, a plank that ran outwards of the bow hanging over the water; the "head" of the ship.)
S.C.'s thunder box and porcelain chamber pot, although amusing and old as far as potties go (1840), is worth $200.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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