Jokes spread quickly today via the Internet or television, and satire can be found in comic strips, TV shows and e-mails. Our great-grandparents enjoyed humor just as much, but it had to be passed around by figurines, prints, dishes and even rag rugs or textiles. Sometimes the original meaning has been lost because it was based on a local incident or a political joke. One famous Staffordshire group shows a parson, a woman with a child and a man holding a baby pig. The group is surrounded by baskets of eggs, corn and other produce. At first it appears to be a family scene. But the title, "The Tithe Pig," gives a hint. The parson is waiting to get 10 percent, the tithe from the family for his church. The angry wife is handing him her 10th child. It is satiric - a protest against the church's taking so much money from a family. This figure, along with several other Staffordshire groups, including "The Vicar and Moses," which shows a very drunk Vicar being helped home by his clerk Moses, shows the tension between peasants and clergy. The feelings were so strong that the figurines often were displayed as mantel ornaments. Staffordshire potters made not only "jokes," but also portraits of prize fighters, animal trainers, actors, kings, politicians and other famous people. They recorded the celebrities of their day.
Q: I have a piece of furniture that was my grandmother's. I have no idea what it's called. It looks like a chest of drawers, but it pulls out to be a table that seats 12 people. It has six leaves that are stored inside the chest. There are two labels inside the door. One says, "Saginaw Furniture Shops, Inc." and has a picture of an Indian chief. The other label says, "All exposed structural parts and plywood faces guaranteed mahogany." I hope you can help.
A: You have an Expand-o-Matic buffet table. Saginaw Furniture Shops opened in the late 1920s. It was known for its Expand-o-Matic and Expandaway tables. Another version was shaped like a desk and called Extensol. The top fake drawer of the Expand-o-Matic pulls open and telescopes into a table with an accordion-style construction. Full extension can be up to about 84 inches. The expanding mechanism is called a Watertown Slide and was made by the Watertown Slide Corp. of Watertown, Wis. The tables were sold in the 1940s and '50s in different shapes - chests or desks - in various finishes. Saginaw Furniture Shops is now out of business. Tables from this line have sold recently for $450 to $800, depending on condition.
Tip: Ivory mah-jongg tiles are wanted by collectors, and so are Bakelite tiles.