G. J. has a "fish-course" set of silver plate flatware that dates to the last quarter of the 19th century. I have seen many of these elegant services, and they do not hold much value. Nevertheless, they are emblematic of a certain way of life.
The knife blades have incised decoration on flat wide blades. The tines of the fork are long and sharp. Both the blades and forks are perfect for flaky fish. The knives are 8 inches long; the forks, 6 inches long. This is the standard length for utensils used for a fish course, smaller than main-course cutlery but not as small as traditional fruit or dessert-course cutlery.
G.J. does not mention if she found a hallmark, but they are almost definitely English. The tradition of a fish course is today followed in Britain.
Notice the handles. They could be bone, but they also could be ivory, and this is going to make a sale almost impossible because it is illegal to sell ivory or anything that could be construed as ivory. However, we can still talk about the history of such a service, rarely used today.
What is a fish service and when is a fish course served in a formal dinner? A fish course traditionally comes before the meat course. In early formal table settings, a fish dish was called an entrance course (an entrée). The fish was served after the soup, which was served after the hors d'oeuvres. There's quite a bit of food involved in a traditional banquet, which was meant to show status and rank.
If you were attending a banquet in France in 1650, fish was just one of the multiple entrée courses, followed by one or more roasts of meat from the spit. An entrée was always a cooked dish; G.J.'s set might have seen fish in a fine sauce — a fine entrée was a way to show off the chef's skill.
Fish services never contain spoons because the fish entrée never included vegetables or potatoes. In fact, in the 18th century, the fish course was called the "remove" because the fish course was removed after it was consumed, as a joint of meat was then ceremoniously carved in the presence of the guests, perhaps by the host. This meant a new course, featuring roast fowl of many types. We still serve this way, loading the table with every dish of the meal at once, and carving the roast fowl in the presence of guests. Think of formal Thanksgivings, which are throwbacks to the 17th century style of banqueting. When Gramps carves the bird this Thanksgiving, think of him as a nobleman in 1650.
During the last half of the 19th century, dining habits changed and called for servants to bring in each course on separate plates to the various guests. Because the dishes were not evident on the table before each course was carried in, menus were developed. Fish, however, remained as a course after the soup. And fish sets such as G.J.'s were popular throughout the 19th century and may have been a fine wedding present for a middle-class couple who aspired to have multiple courses at their formal table.
Today, dining habits have changed yet again, even for formal dinners, and we really don't have much need for a separate fish course, or separate fish cutlery. The variety of specialization for the table, which characterized the 19th century, has lost favor today. Now, the classic formal meal is an appetizer (starter in Britain), an entrée and a dessert.
G.J., although the fish set is a piece of culinary history, because we no longer use such lovely pieces and consider them to be a pain to wash, polish and store, the value is less than it should be given the workmanship. A set of 12 will bring under $125 at auction on a good day, and that's if you can prove the set is bone and not ivory. Of course, the value would be higher if you found a sterling hallmark, but most fish sets were Sheffield plate — silver plate over copper — in the last quarter of the 19th century.
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.
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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