Cooking for a family was labor-intensive in the 19th century. Each dish started with a living animal or fresh produce that had to be cleaned, cut, pitted, peeled, grated or chopped. Then it was combined with other ingredients and cooked over an open fire or in an oven. The late 1800s was a time of invention and the problems of the housewife-cook were solved in many ways. Hundreds of different apple slicers were patented. There were also cherry pitters, can openers, green-bean slicers, ice-cream makers, mayonnaise mixers and many other useful, if sometimes strange, devices. Most 21st-century collectors and cooks often don't even recognize some of these tin or iron tools. The next time you see an unusual iron tool with a handle that turns gears, moves blades or clicks parts in odd ways, try to imagine how it could have been used. Our favorites are cherry pitters, sometimes called "stoners." They usually have prongs that push the seed out of the cherry and send the seeds down one path and the cherry down another. What a clever device to use when making a cherry pie. The manufacturer and the date are often embossed on the turning wheel. Value is determined by age, maker and how complex the mechanism is. The tools can sell from $35 to hundreds of dollars.
Q: I have a pair of painted china bowls given to me 50 years ago by an English cousin who said they belonged to his mother. The bottom is stamped with a lion in a shield. The word "Bavaria" is above the shield and "Schumann" below it. What can you tell me about the maker?
A: Your bowls were made by the Carl Schumann Porcelain Factory, which operated in Arzberg, Bavaria, Germany, from 1881 to 1996. The mark on your dishes was not used until the 20th century. Schumann pieces are easy to find for sale on the Internet. Single bowls sell for $5 to $25.
A grandfather clock should be cleaned, oiled and adjusted every five years. It is important to keep the clock level if it is to keep accurate time.