Wicker was used for furniture for many years before it was used in America to make baby carriages.
By the mid-1870s, thousands of carriages were being made by furniture manufacturers, such as Heywood Bros. and Co., Wakefield Rattan Co., and by carriage companies Gendron Wheel Co. and F.A. Whitney Carriage Co. Wicker baby carriages were in such demand that Sears, Roebuck and Co. published a special carriage catalog in 1897.
The carriages sold for $2.50 to $33.50, making them a luxury item at a time when a beer and a sandwich cost 5 cents. The carriages of the 1890s and early 1900s were very ornate, with wire wheels, many trim pieces and often a parasol to keep the sun off the baby. Wicker cracks and breaks if it becomes dry, and many old carriages that were stored improperly were eventually discarded. A damaged carriage can be repaired, but repairs are expensive.
Q: I bought a large bisque piano baby at a country auction. It was included in a sale of antique dolls. It's unmarked, but the auctioneer said it was made in France. It is a beautifully painted girl sitting and holding a cup in her hands. She is 14 inches tall and sits on a base that's 9 inches wide. The girl, with curly brown hair, is wearing a yellow dress with pink trim and a blue bow on each shoulder. Can you tell me anything?
A: Bisque piano babies like yours were first made in the 1880s. This was an era when many proud piano owners spread a shawl over the top of the piano. The shawls could easily slip off, so piano babies were used to hold the shawls in place. The babies were made either seated or lying down. Most of them were made in Germany. Your piano baby, if original (piano babies have been reproduced) and in excellent condition, could sell for $175 or more.
Q: For at least 75 years, my parents have had a wooden box about 6 inches high by 12 inches square that's stenciled on the sides with the words "Fairbank's Pure White Floating Soap." The box opens on hinges, and the inside of the lid is covered with a color label. Around a center design of roses, the label reads "Fairbank's Fairy Soap, the soap of the century, pure, white, floating, for the toilet, bath and fine laundry use." Do you know anything about this brand?
A: Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank was involved in the lard-rending business in Chicago by the 1880s and was producing soap under several brand names. The Fairy brand was introduced in the mid-1890s. Early ads featured a little girl sitting on an oval cake of soap. The company's slogan for the brand was "Have you a little Fairy in your house?" The brand disappeared in the 1930s, when Fairbank's company was bought out. Your wooden box was a shipping box that held bars of soap shipped to retailers. It could sell today for about $200.