What’s the difference between a settle, settee and sofa? All three evolved from the “bench,” a furniture form with a flat wooden plank seat long enough to hold two or more people. A “settle” was in use by the 12th century. It was a bench with add-ons.
One type had a low back and arms; another had a high back, often with wings instead of arms. The high-back settle of the late 18th and early 19th centuries sometimes had drawers under the seat or a lift-up seat over a storage box. Arts and Crafts cabinetmakers of the 19th century made heavy oak settles with slat backs and open arms. According to an old English furniture dictionary, “settees” first came into use in the late 17th century.
At first the settee had a back that made it look like a double chair, but it soon came with an upholstered back and arms. By the late 18th century, it was difficult to distinguish a sofa from a settee — they looked alike. Today most average collectors call a long seating piece either a bench or a sofa, but auction catalogs like to be more precise and use all the terms.
Q: I have an unopened box of Gold Dust Washing Powder in good condition. Can you tell me the history of this company and the value of the box?
A: Gold Dust Washing Powder was made by N.K. Fairbanks Co. of Chicago. The company was a successor to Fairbank, Peck & Co., founded in 1864. The name changed to N.K. Fairbanks Co. in 1875. Fairbanks made cleaning products. Gold Dust Washing Powder, its most popular product, was distributed by Lever Brothers. It was made from c. 1897 until the late 1930s. The Gold Dust Twins, black children named Goldie and Dustie, were first pictured on Gold Dust boxes in 1902. The twins were drawn by E.W. Kemble, who worked for the Chicago Daily Graphic newspaper. The drawings supposedly were based on two young boys named Tim Moore and Romeo Washburn, who were part of a 1900 vaudeville act called “Cora Mitchell and Her Gold Dust Twins.” The value of your box is about $75.
Q: I have a miniature portrait of an ancestor who lived during the early 1800s. It’s in an oval frame, probably gold, that’s about 1-by-1 1/2 inches. There’s a loop at the top so it can be hung. The picture shows a man with an elaborate ruffled ascot, a dark jacket and long sideburns, all in the style of the early 1800s. I am worried about cleaning it. Any suggestions?
A: Early portrait miniatures were painted in watercolors on a thin piece of ivory, in oils on wood or even in enamels on copper. The miniatures were often worn as mourning jewelry; the back of the frame might hold a lock of hair. Do not let water or even a damp cloth get near the portrait. A watercolor can be destroyed if it becomes wet. Just polish the metal frame and the glass with a dry cloth.
Q: I have a pair of 100-year-old candlesticks that were my grandmother’s. They are 7 inches high by 4 1/2 inches wide at the base and are marked with the name “Cordey.” Can you tell me anything about Cordey and what my candlesticks are worth?
A: The candlesticks are not as old as you think. Cordey China Co. was founded in 1942 by Boleslaw Cybis. Cybis was born in Lithuania in 1895, studied art in St. Petersburg and worked in Turkey and Poland before coming to the United States in 1939 to paint a mural at the New York World’s Fair. He stayed here after the fair because World War II broke out in Europe, and he and his wife opened a studio in the Steinway Mansion in Astoria (Queens), N.Y. In 1942 they moved to Trenton, N.J., known as the “Staffordshire of America,” and opened Cordey China Co. The company made giftware -- figurines, lamps, vases, boxes, ashtrays, plaques and candlesticks -- with boldly applied flowers, ruffles and scrolls. Most pieces were marked and numbered. A pair of Cordey candlesticks like yours sells for $150 to $300. Cybis began making porcelains under his own name in 1950. He died in 1957. Cordey China Co. was acquired by the Lightron Corp. in 1969 and operated as the Schiller Cordey Co., which made only lamps. But Cybis porcelains are still made in Trenton today.
Q: I bought a $5 box lot at a Florida flea market and found a large silver serving fork in the box. It’s marked “EPNS Sheffield England.” It’s unusual looking, though, because its four evenly spaced prongs span out widely. Can you figure out what it was used for and how old it is?
A: Your fork is not a piece of “old Sheffield,” which dates from the 18th century. The letters EPNS stand for “electroplated nickel silver” and indicate that the fork is silver-plated and dates from the Victorian era or later. A fork like yours with three or four prongs may be a “lettuce fork,” designed to serve tossed leafy salads. Lettuce forks are not common these days, but they can be used to serve not only green salads but also molded salads, cooked spinach, fish patties, fritters, squash and other dishes.
Tip: To remove the musty smell from old furniture drawers, fill a small plastic container with white vinegar, seal the container with a lid, then punch a few holes in the lid. Leave the container in the closed drawer overnight or longer to absorb odors.