Antique toys are a window to the past
Antique toys can give us a glimpse into the time they were made. Even if they are not exact models, we can get ideas of the cars people drove, how they dressed and furnished their homes and what professions they had or pastimes they enjoyed. If antique toys teach us about the past, they taught the children who played with them about the future. Toy cars, trains, farm tools, dolls and dollhouses prepared children for their adult responsibilities.
A miniature tin factory was made by Gebruder Bing (Bing Brothers), a German company that was making metal toys by the 1880s. It became one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world and is famous for its toy vehicles (cars, trains and boats) and steam engines. The toy factory, which sold for $4,864 at Morphy Auctions, may have been an educational model to train factory workers, a more serious purpose than that of a typical tin toy.
Q: I saw what looked like a miniature wooden dresser in an antiques store. It looked old. They were asking $80. Why was miniature furniture made?
A: Miniature furniture, particularly from the early 1700s to the 1850s, were made as sample pieces by cabinetmakers. These replicas were produced on a scale of 1/4 inch to 1 foot. Other miniatures were made for dollhouses. Common pieces were chairs, desks, dressers, tables, footstools, bookcases and beds. Some of the bookshelves included tiny replicas of books. Salesman’s samples are very collectible and often sell for more than most regular-size furniture today. It sounds like your antique store find was priced well!
Q: I have an old German Handwerck doll that belonged to my mother. The doll is 29 inches tall and the markings say “109-15 DEP.” There are more markings on the doll’s backside, but they are hard to read. I’d like to sell it. Can you tell me its value?
A: Handwerck dolls were made about 1876 to 1932 in Waltershausen, Germany. The number “109” refers to the doll’s mold number. DEP is an abbreviation for Deponirt, a registered design in Germany. Bisque head Handwerck dolls similar to yours have recently sold for $75 to $195.
Q: I’d like to know how best to take care of a Bradley & Hubbard lamp that has been in my family for over 100 years. The base is very large and heavy. It has a reverse-painted umbrella shade and is from about 1910.
A: Bradley & Hubbard was founded in 1854 by Nathaniel Bradley, his brother, William, and his brother-in-law, Walter Hubbard. The company made clocks, sewing machines and other products. Kerosene lamps were made beginning in the 1860s. The company was reorganized as Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Co. in 1875. It became a division of the Charles Parker Co. in 1940. Production of Bradley & Hubbard lamps ceased in the early 1950s. Lamps with reverse-painted glass shades should be kept away from sunlight and heat, which can damage the colors. Don’t use a lightbulb that’s too hot. Reverse-painted glass should never be washed, just dusted. Use a clean, soft cloth, and don’t apply too much pressure. It could scratch the glass or cause it to crack.
Q: I recently read the book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.” At one point, the book quotes a line from the diary mentioning “Dolly and Sally have washt, scourd my puter and washt the Kitchen”[sic]. I thought pewter was soft and scouring would damage it. Is that right?
A: Yes, pewter is soft, and collectors today do not recommend scouring it. But in the past, up to the 20th century, people used their pewter pieces for cooking, serving and tableware. Homemakers liked it clean and shining. Scouring would have removed any sticky food or residue and made the metal shine. Pewter was cleaned with wood ashes, sand or the Equisetum hyemale plant, also known as “horsetail,” “scouring rush” or “pewter plant.” Today, collectors keep pewter for its decorative value, not its use.