Sunday, August 13, 2000
Desks from past centuries were designed to solve problems of the past.
Where to place the inkwell? Could there be a locked drawer or a hidden compartment for valuable papers? Could papers be filed in some meaningful way? Would there be a way to hide work and still have an attractive piece of furniture?
The desk of the 1830s used a "fall front." It looked like a large drawer, but it opened into a flat writing surface in front of a section of small drawers. The clever design hid drawers, a space to store messy work and a writing surface that protruded so you could use it without bumping your knees. The closed desk could be kept against a wall, where it took up less space.
The fall-front desk, which often had small posts as decoration on the front, was popular in the eastern United States and Midwest for about 20 years. Later, larger and more ornate Victorian pieces came into style.
The roll-top desk of Victorian times hid the drawers and writing surface behind a roll-up, slatted top. The Victorian Wooten desk closed two side sections of the desk and all the drawers into a locked "cabinet."
Today's desk must hold a computer monitor, printer and hard drive. It could also have a series of small shelves on top and a few drawers and more storage space on the bottom. Holes are necessary for electrical connections.
Like most desks, it is designed to take up as little room as possible. But in the 21st century, it is proper to have the machines and even the papers exposed.
Q: My grandfather gave me a Buddy "L" toy tow truck during the 1950s. I still have the truck and its original cardboard box, both in excellent shape. The truck is 24 1/2 inches long. It has a cranking tow hook, three tools, a spare tire and a working jack that can be used to change the truck's tires. The decal on the side of the truck reads, "Buddy 'L' Repair-It Service." The number 5667 is on the box. Can you tell me anything about the maker, age and value?
A: Your Buddy "L" Repair-It truck was made in 1956. Buddy "L" toys were introduced in 1921 by the Moline Pressed Steel Co. of Moline, Ill. The company's early trucks and trains are the most valuable. The Buddy L brand name (now without the quotation marks around the L) is now owned by Empire of Carolina, a firm in Delray Beach, Fla.
Q: My husband's electric cigarette lighter has a cord that can be plugged into a wall socket. The lighter is porcelain and shaped to look like a drunken man in a tuxedo. He is sitting down and holding a bottle of liquor in the crook of his left arm. The lighter fits into his top hat. A friend who is no longer living gave it to my husband. Can you tell us anything about it?
A: Most plug-in electric cigarette lighters were made during the 1930s and 1940s. Your lighter was probably sold to tobacco shops and bars of that period. It is worth about $50.
Q: Where can I find an old, left-handed grapefruit spoon?
A: The grapefruit spoon, sometimes called a citrus or orange spoon, was an idea that was first popular in the 1890s. Citrus fruit was plentiful, and the growers offered special silver or silver-plated serving pieces to encourage women to serve citrus. The spoons were often made to match a full place setting of silver. The grapefruit spoon had a pointed bowl, with serrations on the edges of the bowl. A few were made with serrations on just one side ï¿½ the right-handed spoon. We doubt if there are left-handed spoons, just those that can be used with either hand because both edges are serrated.
Q: We are in the salad dressing business and want to collect antiques related to salads. What do you suggest?
A: The salad was a French idea, introduced at a New York City restaurant in 1831. According to legend, early salads were made with cooked vegetables and either a mayonnaise-type dressing or an oil-and-vinegar French dressing. By the 1880s, salads included lettuce and other fresh greens, as well as chicken, meat or fish.
Salads were so popular that they were served in special dishes. Lobster salad looked best in a dish with a lobster handle. Chicken and fish salads also had special dishes. By 1900, most sets of dishes came with an 8-inch plate, which is now called a salad plate. There was also a large salad bowl and sometimes a cruet set for oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. A silver spoon and fork were used to serve the salad. The 1950s salad set was often a wooden bowl with matching wooden serving pieces.
Q: Do pearls come in colors, or are they dyed?
Natural pearls come in many colors. There are white, pink, black, cream, yellow and even orange pearls in nature. There are also artificially colored pearls in these colors and in shades of bronze.
Never put a collector plate in a dishwasher or a microwave oven. The glaze might become damaged.
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