Archive for Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dinner platter changes forms over the centuries

November 24, 2005


The roasted turkey served at Thanksgiving requires a very large platter. The turkey is usually brought to the table, carved, then served to guests. If Thanksgiving had been a European feast started during the late Middle Ages, the table setting and manner of service would have been very different. In the 15th century, dinner feasts were held in the main hall of a castle and included as many as 80 courses, each served on a silver platter. The entire table was filled with platters and dishes of food. By the 17th century, dinner parties were held in a dining room. The meat was still served on large platters, but it was already carved into manageable pieces. In the 19th century, servants passed the food to each guest. The 20th century saw the beginning of buffets - dinners where guests served themselves from a side table, then carried the meal to a table or chair. Since the 18th century, silver and ceramic oval platters have been made, some more than 30 inches long. A dish larger than that, topped by a 25-pound turkey, would be almost too heavy to carry to the table. Today the Thanksgiving turkey platter is usually oval and can be made of china, silver, pewter, glass or plastic.

Q: How can you tell an old milk glass from new? I have read that older pieces look opalescent around the edges, but I've seen newer pieces with opalescent edges.

The Thanksgiving turkey can arrive at the table on this transferware platter made in England about 1880. The asymmetrical pattern is typical of the Japanese-inspired decorations of the time. The platter sold at Brenda's Treasures at for $200.

The Thanksgiving turkey can arrive at the table on this transferware platter made in England about 1880. The asymmetrical pattern is typical of the Japanese-inspired decorations of the time. The platter sold at Brenda's Treasures at for $200.

A: Collectors often look for opalescence, or "fire," on the edges of milk glass to help prove that the glass was made between about 1870 and the 1890s. But it's not a perfect test. Nineteenth-century glassmakers used different types of white glass to create opaque white pieces. Not all of it shows opalescence on the edges. Collectors sometimes use the term "opal glass" or "fiery opal" for opaque white glass with shimmery, translucent edges. Here are a few ways to tell old from new: (1) Many old milk-glass pieces have a C-shaped rough spot, or "straw mark," on the foot of the glass. (2) The plain surfaces of old milk glass are often marked with thin, concentric circles, caused by uneven cooling in the mold. (3) Old milk glass has less blue in it, the texture is less oily and the glass is heavier. (4) Most 19th-century milk-glass items are serving pieces, like sugar bowls and creamers, or novelties, like toothpick holders and animal-shaped covered dishes. You won't find an antique set of milk-glass dinnerware.

Q: My father gave me a small rocking chair without arms that he inherited from his grandmother. It fits perfectly in a corner of my bedroom, where it displays my collection of dolls. The chair's seat is upholstered, and the wood appears to be cherry. I noticed a label on the bottom that says "Tell City Chair Co., Tell City, Indiana." Can you provide any history?

A: Tell City Chair Co. has been a manufacturer of traditional "Early American" chairs, including rockers, since 1865. Starting about 1935, it also manufactured tables, chests, beds and other furniture. The company is still in business in Tell City, Ind., and has a Web site ( Tell City was founded in 1858 as a planned community of Swiss furniture craftsmen from Cincinnati. They named the town after their national hero, William Tell. The Chair Makers Union of Tell City - the forerunner of Tell City Chair Co. - was established in 1865. A 1927 Tell City Chair Co. catalog offered a variety of chairs, from kitchen stools and lunchroom chairs to porch chairs and sewing rockers. Your armless rocker, if very small, is a child's rocker. If it's large enough to seat an adult, it's a sewing rocker, sometimes also called a nurse rocker, a slipper rocker or a ladies rocker. A sewing rocker was designed with short legs and no arms so a woman could sit in comfort while doing needlework or nursing a baby. Early sewing rockers had cane seats, but later versions were made with cushioned upholstered seats.

Q: We have a Della Robbia wall plaque titled "Madonna del Presepio." It was given to my father in the 1920s. The round plaque is 23 inches in diameter and 3 inches thick. It is white clay with a relief design showing the Madonna with the Christ Child and three angels. The figures are glazed white, but the sky and ground are painted in vibrant shades of blue, green and yellow. The border is a relief design of fruit. The title of the plaque and the name A. Della Robbia are written in black on the back. Is the plaque valuable?

A: Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525) was the nephew and pupil of an Italian Renaissance artist named Luca della Robbia (1400-1482). Luca developed the art of enameled relief sculpture. Luca's enameled terra-cotta pieces looked like marble, but they were less expensive. Andrea, and later his sons, carried on Luca's business, and copies of originals have been made ever since. You probably have a 20th-century copy of a della Robbia original. Some 20th-century copies sell for about $200. An expert who can handle the piece will be able to give you a better idea of the quality and value of your plaque.


Rub the base of a candlestick with a little olive oil before lighting a candle. Any wax that drips can easily be peeled off the oiled base.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Fostoria glass plate, Pioneer pattern, fruit center, green, 12 inches, $40.

Tucky the Turkey toy, stuffed mohair, Steiff tag, c. 1950, 4 inches, $85.

Copper warming pan, brass lid, turned wooden handle, repousse design, c. 1800, 35 x 11 inches, $115.

Copper chestnut roaster, with brass handle, England, c. 1845, 5 x 21 inches, $225.

Toy model kit, Wells Fargo Overland stagecoach, Lindberg Toys, 1979, box, $275.

David Copperfield doll, by Madame Alexander, molded felt face, blond wig, red hat, 1930s, 16 inches, $400.

Colonial Club 5-cent cigar sign, brunette woman in large hat, black background, paper, 22 x 17 inches, $810.

Jacquard woven coverlet, 2-piece, navy blue, red, blue-green and natural, border of buildings, year 1838 in corner block, 78 x 88 inches, $865.

George Ohr vase, cornucopia, circular foot, terra-cotta, unglazed, c. 1900, 4 inches, $1,150.

Harvest table, softwood, green paint, drop-leaf sides, drawer, turnip feet, late 18th century, 28 x 53 inches, $2,325.


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