A favorite wedding gift in the 1950s was a one-of-a-kind, colorful enameled ashtray or bowl made by a craftsperson. Enamels were especially popular in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois and California because art schools there had teachers who were experimenting with enameling. In Cleveland, the Ferro Enamel Co., a firm that made enameled stoves and architectural pieces, worked with local artists to create large enamel-on-steel tiles for murals on buildings. Ferro also encouraged artists to design salable small enamels for the gift trade. Soon, enameling became not only a business for artists, but a hobby for amateurs. Enameling lost favor by the 1970s, and the techniques were no longer taught in many schools. But some artists continued to create new jewelry, plaques and other enameled designs, and some collectors began to look for the earlier wedding presents. Ellamarie Wooley and her husband, Jackson, started enameling in San Diego in 1947 before they established their teaching careers. They experimented, sold some small pieces and eventually did large murals for buildings. Their enamel pieces, especially their abstract designs, are popular with today's collectors.
Q: We bought an old wood-burning cookstove for $75. We cleaned it up and found that its surface is porcelain. The original parts are still in good shape. It's an Atlanta Model 51-15-L. Can you fill in any history?
A: Any cookstove with a porcelain (enameled) surface probably dates from the 1920s or '30s. By then, most Americans were cooking with natural gas or electricity, but some households continued to use wood cookstoves. Your stove was manufactured by Atlanta Stove Works of Atlanta. The company is no longer in business. Many collectors love old restored stoves, and there are suppliers around the country who can sell you new replacement parts.
Q: I bought a silver-plated item that I'm hoping you can identify. The upper part is in the form of an open, egg-shaped cup with a wide decorative edge. The cup is tilted and welded to a silver-plated base on which a tiny silver bird sits with its spread wings supporting the side of the tilting cup. The cup is engraved "Xmas '99," and the mark on the bottom is "Barbour Silver Co. Quadruple Silver."
A: Barbour Silver Co. was organized in 1892 in Hartford, Conn. Although Barbour became part of the International Silver Co. of Meriden, Conn., in 1898, its factory kept operating and its marks stayed in use. Your silver piece dates from the late 1890s and was engraved as a gift in 1899. It could be a spoon holder, part of a Victorian tea set. Anyone who needed a spoon could take one from the holder. Or it might be a toothpick holder, kept on the table so diners could clean their teeth after a meal. Toothpick holders, often called "toothpicks" by collectors, were made in shapes similar to spoon holders but are much smaller. Spoon holders the age of yours sell for $150 to $250 if in excellent condition.
Q: My mother left me her child-size ceramic tea set picturing Palmer Cox Brownies. I have the teapot, 4 inches tall; the sugar and creamer, 2 1/2 inches tall; six dessert plates, 3 inches in diameter; and six very small cups and saucers. The Brownies are shown playing instruments or dancing. Can you tell me anything about the set?
A: A Canadian artist named Palmer Cox (1840-1924) wrote and illustrated children's stories about the miniature world of Brownies - little elves from Scottish folklore. Cox's Brownie stories first appeared in the early 1880s in children's magazines. In 1887, two dozen of his stories were collected in the book "The Brownies: Their Book." Cox built a commercial enterprise around his characters. Kodak named its Brownie camera after the characters, and they also inspired the name for young Girl Scouts. Brownies were also pictured on trade cards, games, blocks, paper dolls, figurines and children's dishes. Your tea set was manufactured in Germany around 1900. A complete set is hard to find. If it's in excellent condition, it could sell for $250 or more.