Archive for Sunday, November 11, 2001

50s furniture enjoys revival

November 11, 2001


Furniture from the 1950s is back in style with collectors. The now-popular designs were shocking when they were introduced.

The prevailing style of the '40s was very traditional. Newlyweds bought reproductions of 18th-century English or American furniture, or perhaps a style called "French Provincial."

Designers who started the '50s look were able to use new materials that were stronger, more colorful and flexible. Tubular steel legs, molded plywood or fiberglass, latex-foam cushions and nylon parts made very-different-looking pieces possible.

One of the most famous '50s designs is the DCW (Dining Chair Wood) by Charles Eames and his wife, Ray. The chair was made almost entirely of molded plywood. Pieces were bent to form the legs, back and seat. The wood could be ash, birch or walnut, or it could be colored with red or black analine dye.

Some were made with seats and backs covered with animal hide, often mottled pony skin. The chair is so comfortable, practical and well-priced that similar chairs are still made.

I have a collection of small silver boxes, most of them in the Art Nouveau style. One of the boxes is marked "NB Rogers, Danbury, Conn." Can you identify the maker?

Nathaniel Burton Rogers founded the Rogers Silver Plate Co. in 1896 in Danbury. The firm made silver-plated novelties, including candlesticks, bookends and boxes like yours. The company worked until 1924. The Art Nouveau design of your box indicates that it dates from the early 1900s.

My collection of demitasse cups is not large, but I have cups that were made in England, China, Austria, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia and the United States. Can you tell me when the cups were first used?

The word demitasse is formed from two French words: demi (half) and tasse (cup). It is therefore not surprising that most historians trace the history of these small coffee cups to France. That's where the first espresso machine was made, in the early 1820s. The Italians later perfected the machine and started manufacturing them.

Espresso is such a strong coffee that only a small cup is needed. Because espresso is usually an after-dinner drink, people also refer to demitasse cups as after-dinner cups. It is also possible that some of your cups are not really demitasse cups. They might be child-size cups or smaller, toy-size cups.

My mother gave me her old gold ring. It is set with a strange stone that looks like glass with a strand of hair inside. A jeweler told Mom that the stone is "rutilated quartz" and that it's an unusual gemstone of value. Is it?

Rutilated quartz is clear rock crystal that has an inclusion a group of hairlike crystals of another mineral that formed inside. It is sometimes called "Thetis Hairstone."

The stone is found in many countries, including the United States, Brazil and Switzerland. Rutilated quartz that is set as jewelry is usually cut in a cabochon shape to show the inclusions to their best advantage.

It is not a common stone. A well-made gold ring set with an interesting rutilated quartz would be of value to collectors of jewelry.

In 1949, I bought a 32-piece set of ceramic dinnerware at a New York City department store. The dishes are yellow with a brown-drip overglaze, and the plates and saucers are square.

The mark on each piece reads "Guppy's Calif." Do you know the company? Can you estimate the value?

During the 1940s and '50s, Roy and Harriet Guppy operated a pottery in Corona del Mar, Calif. Guppy's made eccentric square-shaped dishes, like yours, called "Island Ware."

A Guppy dinner plate is valued around $20, and a cup and saucer around $35.

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