Archive for Sunday, February 29, 2004

Laundry tools from 19th century appeal to collectors

February 29, 2004


Housework in the 19th century was done on a schedule.

There was a different job for each day of the week. Monday was laundry day; Tuesday was ironing; Wednesday was cooking and baking; Thursday was the day to catch up on cleaning bedrooms. On Friday, the front parlor was cleaned to get ready for company during the weekend.

Other cleaning was done on Saturday because Sunday was the Lord's Day, with time for church and a proper restful Sabbath. Cleaning jobs were much more difficult than they are today. Dirty clothes were sorted and soaked, then rinsed. Next, they were boiled in a copper tub full of water with shredded soap and a tablespoon of kerosene or some paraffin. After an hour, the clothes were taken out of the tub with a wooden clothes stick, rinsed in warm water and put through a wringer. This was all done by hand -- or, in upper-class homes, in a hand-cranked wooden washing machine. The clothes still needed starch and bluing, and were then hung on a clothesline to dry.

Late in the evening, the clothes were taken off the line, sprinkled with water and folded so they could be ironed the next day. All of this created many laundry tools that collectors now like. The wooden washing machine, wringer, copper wash boiler, washing stick, washboard, soap savers, laundry baskets, and even clothespins, bars of wrapped soap and bluing paddles are sold at flea markets and shops.

I've had a hard-plastic doll since I was a child in the 1950s. She's 14 inches tall and is marked on the back "Original Mary Hoyer Doll." She has a blond wig. I have never heard of this brand of doll. What can you tell me about it?

Mary Hoyer (1901-2003) began her career in the 1930s as a designer of children's knitwear and soon started designing matching doll clothes. She came up with an idea for a slim doll that could be sold with a sewing-pattern book. Her first dolls, made of composition, were manufactured by Ideal. By 1938, Hoyer had hired a doll designer, and her dolls were manufactured by the Fiberoid Doll Co. Hard-plastic dolls were introduced by Hoyer in 1946 and were made until 1960. These dolls came in several sizes. With an original outfit made from a Hoyer pattern, your hard-plastic 14-inch doll should sell for more than $400.

We live on Blue Bell Lane, so of course we collect blue bell paperweights from all the telephone companies. Can you tell me about them?

Solid-blue glass bell-shaped paperweights were originally made by telephone and telegraph companies about 1900. They were given to executives and important clients. The name of the company was either molded or etched on the side of the bell. In the 1970s, a new style of bell was made in different colors. Phone-company bells are still being made.

Do you have any information on a china pattern called Calico? I have 40 pieces in the blue-and-white pattern. Each piece has a dark-blue background with white and blue flowers and white leaves and stems all over. The marks on the pieces vary. Some read "Royal Crownford, Calico, Staffordshire, England." Others are marked "Calico, Burleigh, Staffordshire, England." Where can I find more pieces?

Calico is one of the most popular dinnerware patterns of the 20th century. It is a transfer-printed pattern that has been made by several different potteries in the Staffordshire district of England. You can find replacement pieces by contacting matching services or shopping at flea markets and house sales.

Why is it that old bicycles and riding toys that have been restored to look like new go up in value, but furniture that's been refinished and repaired goes down?

It is puzzling -- but there is logic to the thinking of each group of collectors. First of all, a pristine 19th-century bicycle that has never been restored would sell for more than an identical bike that's been restored. But it is highly unlikely that a pristine 19th-century bicycle exists. And a collector who wants an antique bike wants it to look and work the way it did when it was made. So, restoration helps the value of an old bike. Now think about a 19th-century dresser. There is a fairly good supply of antique dressers in excellent condition that have never needed repair or refinishing. So, a collector shopping for a high-quality antique would prefer to buy one that's never been changed from its original state. If you have inherited an old dresser that's sturdy and practical but needs refinishing, go ahead and refinish it. And if you find a refinished dresser that you want to buy, expect to pay less than you would for an antique that's never been touched.


Sometimes when there has been damage, an armchair is reworked into a side chair. The new chair can be detected because an armchair would be wider than a side chair; the incorrect proportions reveal that it's a fake.

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