Kovel’s Antiques: Bride, groom wedding-cake toppers newer than you’d think

The bride and groom topper on a contemporary wedding cake often is made of plastic or sugar. But the traditions of wedding-cake toppers and even wedding cakes do not go back very far.

The sweets served at weddings centuries ago included barley bread, sweet rolls or pies. Later, fruit cakes were served, and, by the 1600s, dessert cakes.

In the 19th century, white icing was expensive because of the high cost of refined sugar, so it was served only by the rich. The modern wedding cake became fashionable in the 1880s, but the bride-and-groom topper wasn’t introduced until the 20th century.

Early figures were made of bisque, composition (like that used for dolls), chalkware or a sugar mixture called “gum paste.” The groom wore a tux or tails and a top hat.

In the 1920s, small bisque kewpie figures were dressed in crepe paper to represent the couple. The bride usually wore a lace cap and a long veil.

In the 1940s, the war influenced topper designs and materials. Plastic toppers were introduced. The bride wore a fashionable dress with lace, and the groom was hatless but might be in tails. Soldier, sailor and other military uniforms were chosen for military weddings. All-sugar figures returned, and a few porcelain sets were made.

Today’s toppers are plastic, sugar or even porcelain figurines by Lladro or Lenox that can be kept for life. Old toppers are inexpensive but hard to find.

When my wife and I married in 1948, a close relative gave us a new four-piece bedroom set as a wedding gift. The set includes a double-bed frame, a mirrored vanity with an upholstered bench and a five-drawer chest. The furniture was manufactured by Showers Furniture of Bloomington, Ind. Does a set like this have any value?

The history of Showers Brothers Co. can be traced back to the 1850s, when Charles Showers opened a cabinetmaking business in Bloomington. His sons, William, James and Charles Jr., took over the business in 1868.

Business expanded between the 1880s and the 1920s and Showers grew to become one of the largest furniture manufacturers in the country. Showers was bought out in 1955 and closed for good in 1958. One of its factories is today the site of Bloomington’s City Hall. If you want to sell your bedroom set, it is easiest to sell it locally. Try posting an ad online. Depending on its style and condition, you might be able to get a few hundred dollars for it.

I bought what I thought was a set of coin silver flatware back-stamped “900.” But the pieces are attracted by a magnet and I have been told that means they’re not really coin silver. Is that true?

“Coin silver” has a slightly lower silver content than sterling silver. Pure silver is too soft and must be alloyed with copper for strength. Sterling is .925 parts silver, while American coin silver is .892 to .900 parts silver. Coin silver was the silver standard common in the United States from 1792, when the U.S. Mint was founded, until the 1860s, when American silversmiths reverted to the English sterling standard they had used before the American Revolution.

Neither silver nor copper is attracted by a magnet. Some spelter, a white metal alloy that looks like silver, does attract a magnet. Your flatware is probably spelter.

I have a small bronze vase that is about 3 inches tall and has raised work on one side. It is marked “Lauchhammer,” with a crown over the name and crossed hammers beneath it. I would like to know who made this vase.

A bell and art foundry was established in Lauchhammer, Germany, in 1725. Bells, bowls, boxes, candlesticks, mirrors, plaques, sculptures, statues and other items were made in bronze, brass, iron, nickel, tin, zinc and other metals. The foundry is still in business, operating under the name Lauchhammer Kunstguss.

Tip: Wash your hands before handling paper collectibles. Wipe off the table before you put valuable papers down on it. There are mold spores in dirt and dust.